FYS 167 Viking Diaspora

Craig Davis, T Th 10:30 AM-11:50 AM

The Norse colonies of Iceland and Greenland, and the attempted settlement in North America, were the first experimental European societies of the New World, revealing patterns of cultural stress and adaptation that anticipated those of the British colonies on the mid-Atlantic seaboard some seven centuries later. We will compare the strengths and weaknesses of the medieval Icelandic Commonwealth, founded in 930 by Viking chieftains and their followers, with the 1787 Constitution of the United States, both systems facing severe crises within two generations over deep structural divisions: slavery in America, religious difference in Iceland. Our sources are the oral memories of founding settlers preserved and elaborated in the thirteenth-century Icelandic “family sagas,” distinctive prose narratives marked by vivid realism, terse dialogue, violent action, complex characterization (including that of strong women), and a view of the world reflecting the desperate religion and grim humor of the Icelanders’ pre-Christian ancestors.  Limited to 16 first-year students.{L}