Postdoctoral projects

  • Andrea Maraschi

Food was a fundamental element in many symbolic linguistic codes of the past, and this was particularly evident in Medieval times. Judaic-Christian culture, just like Celtic and Old Norse mythologies, amongst the others, show that one of the common traits of ancient cults was the typology of their “lexicon”: food parables and allegories; the idea of a paradise where there are no seasons and food is available for everyone, forever; the connection between gods, natural forces and, as a consequence, abundance or lack of food, fecundity or famine. The success and effectiveness of this “food language” depended on its universal and dynamic essence: everybody could understand, memorize and spread it with basically no risk of misinterpretation. Just because the target crowds of such religious cults were obviously formed of illiterates, linguistic codes based on familiar elements (bread, wine, ale, cattle, agriculture, fishing, cooking, etc.) were undoubtedly the most suitable, pragmatic and handy ones to use. In hindsight, the “food language” can also be studied as a historical source which lets us know important aspects about food cultures of the Middle Ages, from the fear of hunger to “civilizing plants”.

  • Emily Lethbridge

The primary research I am undertaking at the moment aims to bring the early 14th-century manuscript Gráskinna (GKS 2870 4to) to the fore as one of the most extraordinary manuscripts in the SÁM's collection. To this end, I am investigating certain material aspects of the manuscript as well as the characteristics of its distinctive text of Njáls saga. A second strand of my research involves developing and building an open-access, online, interactive digital map which presents the narrative of Njáls saga to scholars and students, and also to a broader general audience. My research thus combines traditional approaches to medieval Icelandic manuscripts and saga literature with the latest developments in digital humanities technologies.

  • Erika Sigurdson

My research project is interested in the development of administrative literacy in fourteenthand fifteenth-century Iceland. This is the time when the sustained use of registers, charters,inventories and other written documents for legal and administrative purposes appears to havebegun. For this project, I will be examining documents, record collections, inventories, and otherforms of administrative writing in their social and cultural context. As part of the project, I willbe conducting a study of individuals and communities involved in the production of writtenrecords. In the process, I hope to create an impression of relationships and networks acrossdivisions such as family, region, or secular and ecclesiastical spheres. In addition to its rolewithin the field of literacy studies, this project will work to shed light on social and culturaldevelopments in late medieval Iceland, an important period which has not yet been the focus ofsustained historical inquiry.

  • Jan Alexander van Nahl

Social life would be impossible without the human’s capability to make sense of everyday experiences through mental structuring – society only works due to its narrative dimension. From this point of view, literature plays a constitutive role in the process of sense-making. This is even more true for times of crisis like Sturlungaöld, disrupting common modes of day-to-day consciousness by drawing awareness to the contingency of history, and human's dependence on external conditions. Facing this situation, literary texts allowed for a reflection by means of fiction already in the Late Middle Ages. Bynames like inn fróði bear witness to a kind of intellectual elite, apparently regarded as particularly competent in providing literary solutions. Moreover, a subtle handling of conflicting experiences and traditions might even have contributed to a person’s intellectual repute; skaldic poetry bears witness to medieval Icelanders’ fascination of sophisticated compositions. If this thesis is right, it should be possible to extract specific narrative patterns from Old Icelandic texts by which sociocultural problems were configured: what are the functional principles of historical changes? Not least, my project aims at testing literary studies’ capability of contributing to historical anthropology.