Thursday, October 14, 2010

Preview: The International Vinland-Seminar in Chicago

The International Vinland-Seminar in Chicago will be held October 15-17 at North Park University. The three-day event features an impressive group of international speakers giving presentations on a wide range of topics.

Vínland is the name Norse explorers gave to one of the three areas they visited in North America when they first arrived between approximately 1000 and 1011 CE. According to recent scholarship, Helluland (“stone slab land”) is thought to be in the area of northern Labrador, Markland (“forest land”) in southern Labrador, and Vínland (“vine land”) in either the Saint Lawrence Valley or on the coast of New England.

The Saga of the Greenlanders and Eirik the Red’s Saga were written down in Iceland in the early thirteenth century and are together known as The Vínland Sagas. They tell of several voyages to America from Iceland and Greenland by Bjarni Herjolfsson, Leif Eiriksson, Thorfinn Karlsefni and others. The sagas give detailed descriptions of American topography, vegetation, and encounters with Skraelingjar (their word for Native Americans).

In the 1960s, archaeological research by Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad confirmed that Viking settlements had indeed existed at L’Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland. The research team found building remains at the North American site that matched structures in Iceland and Greenland from the time period described in The Vínland Sagas.

On October 15, the seminar’s opening reception will feature a speech by Gary T. Johnson, president of the Chicago History Museum. The specific topic of his talk has not been announced.

On October 16, there will be a full-day symposium. This list of speakers is as follows:
Who Were the Vikings? Society, Politics and Culture in the Viking Age
Torgrim Titlestad (University of Stavanger, Norway)

Vinland – As It Was Recalled in the Icelandic Sagas
Gisli Sigurdsson (Arni Magnússon Institute, Iceland)

Rasmus B. Anderson – Originator of Leif Ericsson Day
Úlfar Bragason (University of Iceland)

L’Anse aux Meadows and Vinland
Birgitta Wallace (Parks Canada)

Searching for Viking DNA
Stephen Harding (University of Nottingham, England)
In addition, Norwegian artist Jarle Rosseland will give a presentation on his Vinland Suite, a set of 24 linocut prints that illustrate the Norse exploration of Vínland.

On October 17, a service will be held at the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church. It’s probably a Christian service, but - given the subject matter of the seminar - it’s not entirely clear. In the words of Fats Waller, “One never knows, do one?” The weekend’s organizers have also put together a Sunday trip to visit the Leif Eiriksson statue in Humboldt Park and to see The Viking, a replica of the 9th-century Gokstad ship. The Viking was built in Norway in 1892, sailed across the Atlantic from Bergen to New York in 1893, shown at the Columbian Exhibition in Chicago the same year, and is currently housed in Geneva, Illinois.

The seminar is presented by North Park University, the Center for Scandinavian Studies, and Saga Publishers International. The event website has more information on the weekend’s activities.

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