Enjoyed a session today at the 29th Annual Conference on Medievalism at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
My friend Kevin Harty of LaSalle University in Philadelphia gave a great talk on “The Vikings in Rhode Island: The Sagas, The Newport Tower, and R. William Neill’s 1928 Film, The Viking.“
As it happens we’ve just covered the Vikings in History 111, and as has been pointed out on this blog, the Vikings retain a certain fascination for us in a way that, say, the Franks, Vandals, or Visigoths do not. People seem to like them, and in the nineteenth century there was an imperative to discover Viking remains in North America. One can understand why Scandinavian settlers in Minnesota would want to find them – thus the Kensington Runestone, and the statue of Big Ole the Viking that commemorates it. But this impulse was found on the eastern seaboard too: the Newport Tower, built by Benedict Arnold’s great-grandfather in the seventeenth century, was seriously cast as the work of Leif Ericsson on a visit to Vinland c. AD 1000.
Why should this be? I asked. Was Plymouth not enough? Kevin pointed out that America has a love-hate relationship with Britain and can be touchy about acknowledging British cultural primacy. Holding up the Vikings as the founders of white America gets around that. Furthermore, the Vikings, being Nordic, were racially “purer” than the English, who had been tainted though intermingling with the French.
This is going in my lecture next year!