Transformations

Today the course I am teaching, Scandinavian 123, begins the final section of the course, which I titled "Transformations" when I made up the syllabus. I just noticed that I put the topics in a really random order on the original syllabus, but hope my student's will appreciate my efforts to fix that with an amended syllabus today.

One of the challenging things about teaching this section is trying to decide how exactly to explain how Viking raiders turned into Medieval Christians. Models of cultural change generally depend on a diffusion model--i.e. that Scandinavians saw how things were done in mainland Europe and then copied it--based on some sort of idea of logical progression and rational human preference for more efficient systems. Such an explanation is largely unsatisfying, in as much as most cultural systems are neither that logical nor that permeable. So first one has to assume that Viking culture was somehow perceived as insufficient before one can hypothesize that outside influences were welcomed, and I rather doubt armed Viking chieftains saw themselves as weak in any way.

I also note that a diffusion model does not work in as much as it does not explain why some parts of the European system were adopted, and not others. The court jester being a case in point. Did the high status court poets of the Viking and early medieval period transform into court jesters? Such a transformation might not be bad or unwelcomed, but neither can it be assumed as a simple and natural development.

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