Friday, 29 October 2010

The Saga-Steads of Iceland: A 21st-Century Pilgrimage

We would like to alert you to the adventure-cum-academic-project which is about to be undertaken by one of our Research Fellows, Dr Emily Lethbridge. Her blog can be found at, but we also include an outline of her project below.

Dr Emily Lethbridge writes:

I complete my term as a post-doctoral Research Fellow (in medieval Icelandic literature) at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in December 2010 and I am planning an ambitious and exciting project for 2011. I intend to move to Iceland in January 2011 in order to embark upon a year-long '21st-century pilgrimage to the saga-steads of Iceland'. I will drive from the UK to Denmark, where I will catch a ferry from Hirtshals over to the Faroe Islands, and then on to Iceland, weather at sea permitting. Once in Iceland, over the course of the year, I will travel around and across the country reading each one of the 13th-century Íslendingasögur (the Icelandic family sagas) in the physical landscapes in which they and their 9th-, 10th-, and 11th-century action are set. I will live for the most part out of my Land Rover ambulance and will move from farm to farm on the basis of introductions I already have and growing awareness and interest in the project. I want to talk to people I meet about their personal interests in, and responses to, the sagas and I hope to persuade people to tell oral versions of sagas they know, or episodes from sagas that are local to their part of the country.
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In addition, I will draw on published 19th-century travel accounts by figures such as William Morris, W. G. Collingwood, and Sabine Baring-Gould, comparing what they found on visiting the saga-sites with what is to be found now. As I travel, I will write up my experiences and the end-product will be a book that will be published by a mainstream commercial publisher, and will be of interest not only to those who are already knowledgeable about Iceland and familiar with the sagas, but the wider British reading public. In essence, the book will be about Iceland and its unique landscape, the sagas against and within that landscape, the Icelandic people and their relationship with the landscape and the sagas, and continuity and change in Iceland from medieval to present times. The book will be illustrated with my photographs.
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The financial collapse in 2008 and the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in 2010 flung Iceland onto the global stage--albeit under a cloud, literally and metaphorically. British perceptions of Iceland are (often negatively) based on the after-effects of these events--i.e. the lock-down of international air travel--and on images of a bleak and inhospitable landscape used as the backdrop to 4-by-4 car adverts. I want to redress this situation by communicating to the British public how much more there is to Iceland. Most of what is written about Iceland for general consumption is based on the superficial experiences of commercial writers who have little or no previous knowledge of the country, its history and culture, and most importantly, the Icelandic language. I speak Icelandic fluently, however, and I know rural parts of the country well (and how Icelandic rural life works) as a result of working on a dairy farm in the north of the country.
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Beyond the book, additional project outputs will be high-profile media coverage (national newspapers, magazines, radio), and I will also keep a blog in which I will report on my progress. By these means, I hope to communicate something of the remarkable character of Iceland--founded on informed knowledge and experiences--to the wider, non-academic public in the UK.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Festival of Ideas - Saturday 23rd October

Dr Elizabeth Boyle writes:

Tomorrow the ASNC Department will be holding an 'Anglo-Saxon Treasure' afternoon, as part of Cambridge University's Festival of Ideas. From 1.30pm until 5pm, the Department will open its doors (on the 2nd floor of the English Faculty Building, 9 West Road, Cambridge) for an afternoon of fun, ideas and activities. Young children will be able to colour in 'Anglo-Saxon brooches', and make rune-sticks, and for the grown-ups there will be a talk from Prof. Simon Keynes on the Staffordshire Hoard, Dr Richard Dance will be performing excerpts from the Battle of Maldon in Old English, and Dr Rory Naismith will be speaking about Anglo-Saxon coins. Dr Debby Banham will also be on hand to help visitors concoct some Anglo-Saxon herbal remedies. We look forward to seeing you there.

Prof. Simon Keynes will be giving his expert assessment of the Staffordshire Hoard (pictured)

Monday, 18 October 2010

Life after ASNC

Dr Elizabeth Boyle writes:

The Sunday Times magazine carried an interesting interview with ASNC alumnus Dr Tom Shakespeare (Pembroke, 1984), and his daughter. Tom is an ASNC legend, on account of his being the first editor of Gesta Asnacorum, the scurrilous publication of the ASNC undergraduates, but he is best known to the wider world as a sociologist, author and campaigner for disability rights, and he currently works for the World Health Organisation. The link to the article is here, but unfortunately it requires a subscription to the Times website to see it. For those of you who can't see it, here's a link to what a few other ASNCs have got up to since they graduated, and here's a link to news about our alumni events (with Tom Shakespeare on the left in the photo from the 1980s alumni reunion). On 25th September, we were delighted to welcome many of our alumni back to the Department for a drinks reception with live music; our next alumni event will be on 24th September 2011, so if you are an alumnus or alumna of the ASNC Department, please do put that date in your diary. We are always delighted to hear about what our alumni are doing, so do contact the Department if you have any news for us.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Dates for your diary

Dr Elizabeth Boyle writes:

The new academic year began on Tuesday 5th October, and we were delighted to welcome many new faces (as well as many familar ones) to ASNC, including twenty-five new first year undergraduates, a dozen new M.Phil. students, four new doctoral students, and our new lecturer in Modern Irish, Dr Margo Griffin-Wilson, an expert on the poetry of Dáibhí Ó Bruadair, who has previously taught Irish at Harvard University and the University of Utrecht.

In the year ahead there will be, as usual, a number of major public lectures in ASNC. Details will follow in due course, but the dates to remember are:

  • 2nd December, the 2010 Quiggin Lecture, to be delivered by Prof. Liam Breatnach, School of Celtic Studies, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies
  • 17th March, the 2011 Chadwick Lecture, to be delivered by Prof. Wendy Davies, University College London
  • 9th May, the 2011 Kathleen Hughes Memorial Lecture, to be delivered by Prof. Thomas Charles-Edwards, Jesus College, Oxford
We look forward to seeing many of you there.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Icelandic at Cambridge

Vicky Cribb writes:

There is more to Iceland than banking crises and volcanic eruptions, as you will discover if you come along to the Modern Icelandic language classes offered by the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, with generous support from the Icelandic government. The classes, which are free of charge, are open to all members of the University and cater for beginners and intermediate students (depending on demand). They are not assessed but are taught on an informal basis, combining grammar instruction with practice in speaking, listening and reading.

There will be introductory sessions for both levels on Friday 15th October: beginners at 3 pm in Rm G-R04, intermediate at 5 pm in Rm S-R25 of the English Faculty. All members of the University are welcome.

For more information about the classes and learning resources, including links to online courses and Icelandic media sites, as well as opportunities for further study, see the Modern Icelandic webpages.

Instructor: Ragnheiður Guðmundsdóttir ( Until 15th October, please address any queries about the course to Vicky Cribb:

Michaelmas Term Timetable:

Beginners: Michaelmas Term 2010, classes start 15th October and end 3rd December: 1 x 50 min/week, 3 pm, Friday, Rm G-R04, English Faculty.

Intermediate: Michaelmas Term 2010, classes start 15th October and end 3rd December 2010: 1 x 50 min/week, 5 pm, Friday, Rm S-R25, English Faculty.