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