Friday, 13 March 2009

Cambridge conference resorts to anachronism

Today’s newspapers report on a Cambridge University conference, Between the Islands, taking place over the weekend. It aims to illustrate how the Vikings engaged constructively with Celts, Anglo-Saxons and other peoples, behaviour far removed from the ‘rape and pillage’ of stereotype. Dr Fiona Edmonds of the university’s Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic said:

‘Within a relatively short space of time – and with lasting effect – the various cultures in Britain and Ireland started to intermingle. Investigating that process provides us with a historical model of how political groups can be absorbed into complex societies, contributing much to those societies in the process. There are important lessons that can be gained from this about cultural assimilation in the modern era.’

This silly headline masks the very real scholarship on display at the conference

I wonder what they are. That sometimes different peoples fight one another, yet are just as likely to rub along together, engage in trade and technological and cultural innovation? The conference press release is headed ‘Vikings offered early lessons in effective immigration’. Again, one wonders what they are? This silly headline, picked up on by the newspapers, masks the very real scholarship on display at the conference and is grossly anachronistic. Is it really so difficult for a great university like Cambridge to engage the wider public in a fascinating topic that it has to butter them up with false promises and absurd parallels?

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