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Old Norse and Emotions Study Day

Date: Thursday 27 October 2016 
Time: 9:30am - 4pm
Venue: Rogers Reading Room, John Woolley Building A20, Science Road, The University of Sydney
Workshop organiser and enquiries: Kimberley-Joy Knight (kimberley.knight@sydney.edu.au)
Registration: The workshop is free of charge but attendees are kindly requested to register for the event for catering purposes. Kimberley-Joy Knight (kimberley.knight@sydney.edu.au)

Please note that the event will be preceded by a public lecture by Professor Carolyne Larrington (University of Oxford) on The Games of Thrones on Wednesday 26 October, The Woolley Common Room, John Woolley Building A20, 5.30pm.

The sources for Medieval Scandinavia have often been regarded as cold and unable to provide insights into the emotional lives of the people who lived during this time. As W. I Miller (1992) observed: “People’s initial impression of sagas is that the saga world is coldly unemotional – not only the sensibilities of characters in them, but the sensibilities of the narrative style as well.’ However, scholars including Miller and Bjørn Bandlien, Carolyne Larrington and Kirsten Wolf have demonstrated the important role that emotions play and that the sources for Medieval Scandinavia are not as emotionally barren as they might first appear.

The Old Norse and Emotions study day, to be held at the University of Sydney on 27th October, will explore how we can use sources from Medieval Scandinavia for the history of emotions. The workshop will explore questions such as:

  • How can we uncover the emotional lives of medieval Scandinavians?
  • What are the interpretative difficulties with the sources?
  • How do the conventions of the saga narrative filter depictions of emotional life?
  • How do we map the linguistic terrain of saga emotions?
  • Can archaeology shed light on medieval emotions?
  • How can we use runic inscriptions to inform our understanding of emotions?

The workshop will have three main strands each led by scholar connected to the Centre for the History of Emotions:

  • Emotions in Old Norse Literature (Professor Carolyne Larrington, distinguished visiting fellow)
  • Emotions in Old Norse Historical Sources (Dr Kimberley-Joy Knight, postdoctoral research fellow The University of Sydney CHE)
  • Emotions in Scandinavian Material Culture (Dr Shane McLeod, CHE Associate Investigator and Honorary Staff Member at the University of Tasmania, and Dr Kimberley-Joy Knight, postdoctoral research fellow The University of Sydney CHE)

A short reading pack, which will form the basis of the discussion, will be sent out in advance of the workshop.


Kimberley-Joy Knight is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Sydney node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. She graduated MA and MLitt in Medieval History from the University of St Andrews and received an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) doctoral fellowship for her PhD research on the gift of tears in thirteenth-century hagiographies (completed 2014). Her major research project at the CHE, entitled ‘Love in a cold climate: The relationship between love, desire, sexuality and marriage in Medieval Norway and Iceland (c.1100-1500)’ explores how love, sexuality and desire were understood, expressed, and enacted in Medieval Norway and Iceland. In order to assess the connection between these elements, Kimberley’s project focuses on gestures, somatic semiotics, and interactions as a way of examining emotional bonds and relationships.

Carolyne Larrington is Professor of Medieval European Literature at the University of Oxford, and teaches medieval English literature as a Fellow of St John’s College. She has published widely on Old Icelandic literature, including the leading translation into English of the Old Norse Poetic Edda (2nd edn, Oxford World’s Classics, 2014). She also researches medieval European literature: two recent publications are Brothers and Sisters in Medieval European Literature (York Medieval Press, 2015) and an edited collection of essays (with Frank Brandsma and Corinne Saunders), Emotions in Medieval Arthurian Literature (D. S. Brewer, 2015). She also writes on the medieval in the modern world: two recent books are The Land of the Green Man (2015) on folklore and landscape in Great Britain, and Winter is Coming: The Medieval World of Game of Thrones (2015), both published by I. B. Tauris. She is currently researching emotion in secular medieval European literatures, and planning a second book about Game of Thrones.

Shane McLeod is a CHE Associate Investigator (2013), an Honorary Staff Member in the School of Humanities at the University of Tasmania, and was an Impact Research Fellow in the Division of History and Politics at the University of Stirling, UK. He has a BA and PhD from The University of Western Australia and a Master of Viking and Early Medieval Studies from Uppsala University, Sweden. His research focuses upon migration, ethnicity and identity and performative aspects of ritual within historic landscape settings during the Viking Age, particularly in Britain. In 2013 He was an Associate Investigator with CHE for a project investigating the emotional background to the placement of rune-stones in Sweden, which resulted in an article in the Journal of the North Atlantic. A new collaborative project Funeralscapes with ethnomusicologist Frances Wilkins and environmental psychologist Carlos Galán-Díaz (both at University of Aberdeen) fits well into the 'emotions and environment' research cluster. Through re-experiencing and interpreting the sonic environment of historic funeral sites they hope to learn more about why people chose specific locations for burial, their acoustic qualities, and the roles of music and sound during the funeral process. Questionnaire's distributed to volunteer 'performers' help the group assess the emotional impact of the re-created ritual and the environment in which it is set.

Image: Juggling and Dancing, a meander strip from The Icelandic Book of Drawing (1330-1550), fol. 19r (photo: Kimberley-Joy Knight)