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BiDis 291:
Medieval Art and Literature - the Vikings

Fall, 2007
Professors Laurence Erussard, English Department
and Michael Tinkler, Art Department

Professor Erussard
Demarest 109
Telephone: 781-3363
Fall 2007 office hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays:10: 00-11: 30

Professor Tinkler
Houghton House Room 211
Telephone: (315) 781-3489
Fall 2007 office hours: Houghton House - Tuesday, 12-1.30
Houghton House - Wednesday, 1.20-2.30
Scandling Center Cafe - Thursday, 12.15-1.00
or any day by appointment

Attendance policy
Writing Assignments
Weekly Schedule
Grading Scale

Course Description

The term "Viking" conjures up a mosaic of violent of images: those of ruthless pirates ravaging the coasts of Europe or of adventurous sailors reaching the American continent or of heroic, pagan warriors vanquishing mythical beasts in the name of Odin, the great god of poetry and battle. Though these images are well attested in medieval material and literary sources, they represent only part of early Scandinavian civilization. This course will be divided into three parts of unequal length: First, we will consider the evolution of a distinct civilization in Scandinavia prior to the Viking Age. Second, we will focus on the period between 790 and 1100, the centuries that have been called the Viking Age. Third, we will pay attention and read carefully the Icelandic Sagas, observe how the acceptance of Christianity and Latin culture influenced a new age in cultural Viking history.

Course Objectives:
The purpose of this course is to familiarize students with a civilization that as often been misrepresented in popular culture. We will learn about and “practice” Scandinavian shipbuilding; we will try to understand the socio-cultural, legal, religious and political causes of what may appear to be [brutal][random / meaningless] feats [[hmmm – they were brutal – what they weren’t were random or meaningless]] of violence; we will learn to recognize and [read][“read”] the runic system and we will become sensitive to the aesthetics of the Vikings’ material and literary culture.

All artifacts, texts and their characteristics will be studied within their historical and socio-cultural contexts. Therefore, the approach will be formalist and historicist. We will pay attention to literary or artistic techniques, styles, generic ascription and variation. As a special project, students will be given the opportunity to build a miniature Viking boat in order to experience the technology of the Norse seamen. We will invite a professor for Cornell University to share with us his expertise in this matter. We will also learn about the making of wax stamps by inviting a local specialist to our classroom.


How this course works with the Colleges' 8 Goals:

This course will help students address Goal 1 (Develop skills for effective communication: listening, reading, writing, speaking.), Goal 6 (Develop an intellectually grounded foundation for understanding differences and inequalities of gender, race and class.), and Goal 7 (Acquire critical knowledge of the multiplicity of world cultures.).


all required:
Secondary text:
Vikings: A Very Short Introduction,, Julian D. Richards

Primary texts:
The Agricola and the Germania, Tacitus, tr. H. Mattingly
The Saga of the Volsungs: The Norse Epic of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer, tr. Jesse L. Byock
Njal's Saga, tr. Robert Cook
Seven Viking Romances, tr. Herman Palsson and Paul Edwards
The Prose Edda : Tales From Norse Mythology, Snorri Sturluson
- Photocopies of other texts will be provided by the instructors, posted on Blackboard and/or put on reserve at the library.

Grading Scale and Writing Expectations

  • 15% - One 10 page project (research, critical or creative)*
  • 30% - Two short papers (1500 words)**
  • 15% - Midterm exam
  • 10% - Class participation
  • 15% - 3 quizzes
  • 15% - Final Exam

1. *The theme of the project should be announced ahead of time; it must absolutely be discussed with and approved by one or both of the instructors. A list of possible project-themes will be provided by the instructors, but you are encouraged to suggest your own according to your personal inclinations and interests. Within the “creative” category, there will be the possibility of a community based, social project; such activities require careful planning and should be organized at least six weeks before the end of the semester.

2. *Projects must be individual. Only in a few cases will several students be allowed to work on the same project and such circumstance will have to be due to the logical requirement of the specific project.

**All papers must be submitted in two ways:
1. A printed copy (stapled please)
2. An electronic copy that will be screened for plagiarism using the program This system is required to meet the academic policies of the Colleges concerning plagiarism and other crucial aspects of intellectual and academic honesty. Plagiarism (the act of deliberately presenting another's work as your own) is unethical, against the Colleges’ policies, and can have serious consequences. All instances of plagiarism will be reported to the Committee on Standards. Avoid plagiarism at all times Please, read carefully the HWS Handbook of Community Standards 2007-2008 for more details.

Attendance Policy

  • You must attend every class session on time.
  • No more than three (3) absences for any reason. More than six absences will result in an automatic failing grade. The only exceptions to this rule are religious observances and documented medical emergencies.
  • Repeated lateness will count as an absence.

Schedule of Assignments

This schedule may/will change according to the needs of the class. Students will be responsible for all the reading assignments. Students should be prepared and punctual. However, should you not be prepared, come to class anyway! You can still learn from class discussions and lectures on those days.

    Week 1.
  • August 29: introduction
  • August 31: The earliest land and the people of Scandinavia. Start reading A Very Short Introduction, Julian D. Richards
  • September 2: Scandinavia in the Bronze Age
    Week 2.
  • September 3 : The Norse Gods. Norse Mythology. Begin to read The Prose Edda : Tales From Norse Mythology, Snorri Sturluson - imaging Valhalla in the Trelleborg ringforts
  • September 5: The Prose Edda
  • September 7: The Prose Edda .
    Week 3.
  • September 10: The Prose Edda
  • September 12: The Prose Edda
  • September 14: The Prose Edda. Eye Witness
    Week 4.
  • September 17: Scandinavia in the Celtic and Roman Eras.
  • September 19: Germania
  • September 21: Quiz 1 Germania
    Week 5.
  • September 24: Germania
  • September 26: Germania
  • September 28: Legendary Heroes: The Saga of the Volsungs.
    Week 6.
  • October 1: Legendary Heroes: The Saga of the Volsungs. Paper1 due
  • October 3: Legendary Heroes: The Saga of the Volsungs.
  • October 5: Legendary Heroes: The Saga of the Volsungs
    Week 7.
  • October 10: Wagner
  • October 12: Midterm; no student will be allowed to leave early for the fall break.
    Week 8.
  • October 17: The Volsungs in the Arts
  • October 19: Revolution in Shipbuilding. Film.
    Week 9
  • October 22: Quiz 2. Revolution in Shipbuilding
  • October 24: The Viking Age: Warfare & Society
  • October 26: The Viking Age: Commerce. Film.
    Week 10
  • October 29: Viking Raids: an example - the Carolingian Empire.
  • October 31: Njal's Saga. Christianity.
  • November 2: Njal's Saga
    Week 11.
  • November 5: Njal's Saga
  • November 7: Njal's Saga
  • November 9: Njal's Saga
    Week 12.
  • November 12: Njal's Saga
  • November 14: Njal's Saga
  • November 16: Normandy, England, Ireland and Iceland.
    Week 13.
  • November 19: Film.
    Week 14.
  • November 26: Viking Romances. Paper 2 due
  • November 28: Viking Romances
  • November 30: Quiz 3. Viking Romances
    Week 15
  • December 3: Viking Romances
  • December 5: Survival and Legacy: Andersen.
  • December 7: : Survival and Legacy: Andersen
    December 8-10: Reading Days: Group-reviews for Final Exam will be held in the Scandling cafe.

Resources and Support for Students

You will be encouraged to form study groups. We will meet with each group to discuss papers and help you review for the exams. These meetings will not be during office hours and will take place in the Cafe.

Image Review
    We offer the possibility for online image review via the Artifact Image Reviews page.
    The physical Visual Resources Collection is on the second floor of Houghton House and holds more than 300,000 slides, compact discs, and DVDs of use for Art History classes.


Image review via Artifact

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