Sustainability Narratives: Seeing Environmental Transformation in Medieval Nordic Literature. Environmental Lunchtime Discussion

In this talk, Old Norse philologist Stefka G. Eriksen will introduce the new research initiative 'Sustainability Narratives' (SUSTAIN) which discusses the role of literature and narratives of all mediums in environmental and societal transformations in the medieval North.

An image of three old manuscripts against a dark background.

Manuscripts from the Arnamagnæan collection.  Image: Københavns Universitet.

The current climate and environmental crisis has made us aware of the pressing need for powerful, large-scale narratives to activate new ways of thinking about and relating to our environment. The only problem we have is that such narratives take time to develop, to be communicated globally, and to be internalized - so how do we know what would work and what wouldn't. As one possible solution, SUSTAIN proposes to look at the narratives left by a culture that was shaken up and persevered a similar environmental crisis in the Middle Ages (transition to the Little Ice Age, the Black Death, etc.). Medieval literary culture presents us with a rich reservoir of largely unstudied environmental narratives that reveal how people dealt with, made sense, fixed, and survived these predicaments. The main objective of SUSTAIN is to develop new models for conceptualizing societal and environmental sustainability today, that may change the way we think about our environmental crisis today.
This will be done by looking at literary and material culture produced in the medieval North, a context where the impact of the crisis was particularly grave. Further, the project will focus on medieval urban centers, which were some of the first social institutions that left distinct environmental footprints. By combining a myriad of sources (archaeological evidence, historical sources, place names, literature and art), we will study the link between the environmental and historical development of medieval urban centers and the stories told about them in literature and art. Ultimately, by exploring the way narratives were used as tools for tackling societal and environmental challenges in the medieval North, the project contextualizes our current predicaments within their historical context. This will give us new insights into our place in the environment, and thus help us make adaptive solutions more salient today.

About the presenter

Stefka G. Eriksen is a literary- and cultural historian, working with Old Norse literary and manuscript culture. She is a Senior Researcher at The Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research, Oslo. She has published on numerous cultural, social, cognitive, and environmental aspects of Old Norse literary culture. Her latest publications include: 'Readings in Times of Crises: New Interpretations of Stories about the Settlement of Iceland,' Scandinavian Studies (in press); 'St. Clements church, Niðaróss: A Castle of the Mind in Old Norse Literature and Culture,' Journal of Environmental Archaeology 2021.

About the event series

The OSEH Environmental Lunchtime Discussion series consists of short, 15 minute presentations by invited guests, followed by a discussion. We invite speakers from a wide variety of fields, both academic and beyond. The presentations are accessible and are aimed at anyone with an interest in environmental issues. All are welcome.

Published Nov. 4, 2021 4:30 PM - Last modified Apr. 21, 2022 11:11 AM