Second Viking Site in Canada!

For the past 50 yearssince the discovery of a thousand-year-oldViking way station in Newfoundlandarchaeologists and amateur historians have combed North America’s east coast searching for traces of Viking visitors.

It has been a long, fruitless quest, littered with bizarre claims and embarrassing failures. But at a conference in Canada earlier this month, archaeologist Patricia Sutherland announced new evidence that points strongly to the discovery of the second Viking outpost ever discovered in the Americas.

Read about it here:

Magellan’s Monsters

Article by Matt Simon, reblogged from Wired Magazine:

When Magellan reached the New World, he reported seeing giant peoples, an account that was disputed quickly explorer Francis Drake. These sorts of accounts were common in earlier periods, from Pliny through the Middle Ages– what made these early explorers see what they hoped to see? Read about Magellan’s encounter with the peoples of Patagonia here:



Viking Navigation


Read here about the way that archeologists think that Vikings navigated without a compass on cloudy days. Used up through the 16th century!


‘Sunstone’ Crystal From British Shipwreck May Be Vikings’ Legendary Navigation Aid

Santa Maria found!

A replica boat of the Santa Maria, undated image


According BBC reporters, Columbus’ Santa Maria has been found!


Jacques Cartier’s First and Second Voyage

Pre-Viking travel

Vikings didn’t find Faroes first (they were 500 years late)

By Josephine Lethbridge, The Conversation

The Faroe Islands could have been inhabited 500 years earlier than was previously thought, according to a startling archaeological discovery.

The islands had been thought to be originally colonised by the Vikings in the 9th century AD. However, dating of peat ash and barley grains has revealed that humans had actually settled there somewhere between the 4th and 6th centuries AD.

The Faroes were the first stepping stone beyond Shetland for the dispersal of European people across the North Atlantic. The findings therefore allow speculation as to whether Iceland, Greenland, and even North America were colonised earlier than previously thought.

Faroe Islands and surrounding area

Mike Church from the University of Durham said he and his research partner, Símun V Arge from the National Museum of the Faroe Islands, had not expected to find such evidence.

“Símun and myself sampled the site in 2006 to take scientific samples for environmental archaeological analysis from the medieval Viking settlement,“ he said.

“We uncovered some burnt peat ash containing barley grains under the Viking longhouse. It was not until we had it dated that we realised what we had found.”

It was a common practise across the North Atlantic for peat to be burnt for warmth, before being spread on fields and grasslands to improve soil stability and fertility. Barley is not indigenous to the Faroes and so must have been either grown or brought to the islands by humans. Their findings are therefore conclusive evidence that the Faroes were colonised in pre-Viking times.

Archaeologists revealing the wall of a Viking longhouse. University of Durham

Andrew Jennings, a Nordic historian at the University of the Highlands and Islands, said the theory of pre-Viking settlement was not new. “Christian Matras, for example, was convinced there were pre-Viking settlers in the 1950’s. He believed there were old field systems that didn’t seem to tie into later settlements. But he had no evidence.”

It is unknown, as yet, whether these mysterious settlers hailed from the British Isles or Scandinavia.

“There is evidence of Irish hermits sailing into the North Atlantic islands in a passage by an Irish Monk called Dicuil in 825AD,” Church said.

The passage from Dicuil’s geographical book describes islands that don’t turn up in any other writing of the time:

Many other islands lie in the northerly British Ocean. One reaches them from the northerly islands of Britain, by sailing directly for two days and two nights with a full sail in a favourable wind the whole time … Most of these islands are small, they are separated by narrow channels, and for nearly a hundred years hermits lived there, coming from our land, Ireland, by boat.

Jennings described how the identification of the Faroes in the text was a subject of debate. “However, it now seems pretty conclusive that Dicuil was referring to the Faroes.”

However, Church stressed that their findings are not necessarily tied to these voyaging Irish monks. “Our findings indicate even earlier colonisation, and more research is needed before any conclusions as to the origin of these settlers can be drawn. We would need to find evidence of the type of settlement to compare to those we know about in that period before forming any opinions on this matter.”

An Irish model of a boat, c. 100 AD Ardfern

The uncovering of this further evidence, however, may be a way off. The evidence is “very ephemeral, and very hard to find,” said Church. This means that future research in the area will be time-consuming and difficult. There are only a few places that allow settlement in the Faroe Islands and when the Vikings did settle there, they destroyed any structural evidence that there may have been.

Despite this, Jennings is confident that the settlers derived from the British Isles. “I personally would think that any pre-Viking settlers in the Faroes would have come from the Hebrides or Shetland rather than Norway,” he said.

“The civilisation in Shetland at the time was Pictish, and had boats. There is also good evidence that they had sails: there is a model boat from Ireland that dates from about 100 BC that has a mast, which could be a model for Celtic boats more generally.”

“There is not so much evidence of sails in Norway until as late as 700 AD. It is therefore more likely that these early Faroese settlers came from the British Isles.”

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Old Maps and New Maps

My post, copied from an thought-provoking HASTAC forum. Reading the entire forum is definitely worthwhile.


I’m intrigued by two of the points, which seem to intersect:

1) The question of trying to visualize two different views of the same space at the same time and the narrative equivalent of that, and

2) How should we use old and new maps? Should we try to see what the author may have seen? Is there a morality of mapping?

I agree with Cameron that there are different capacities for viewers. Brains are wired uniquely, and some people prefer street view (3D) and some prefer flat (2D), and some people seem to pass easily from one to the other. But the positioning is so very different– one with a bird’s eye (narrative equivalent of omniscient) and the other with a first person view. [I wonder what a game would be like with a 2nd person view? That would seem the closest to merging the two.] This would make a fantastic model for a text that switches between points of view. I can imagine playing through the text (I’m currently a little obsessed with gaming models for the humanities) with a change in point of view, as Annette suggests. What would that bring to the reader? Would the reader “see” or experience the text more as the author did? Which brings me to the second point.

What does it bring us to see things as they may have been seen 50 or 1000 years ago by an author? Like Rebecca, I work with medieval maps that don’t geo-reference precisely to modern maps. We tried an exercise to geo-rectify a medieval map, and while it was possible, the result was rather amusing; I’m not sure it was helpful to anyone, though it did show the impossibility of such a task. Here I quote from one of the students in the course, Katie Gandy:

While reading over the excerpts from [Martin] Foys’s book [Virtually Anglo-Saxon, Florida 2010], especially Ch 4, I kept thinking of our attempts to map the medieval map onto a modern map while using ArcGIS.

I know that we all spent much time connecting green x to blue x in order to align the edges of the maps (April takes the cake with her 100+ alignments).  Regardless of the time spent, though, we could never make the maps fit exactly — “To modern eyes, these medieval worlds never seem quite right” (Foys 111).

We were trying to use a modern political map and precise GPS points from google maps to locate positions on a medieval map… which was NOT the purpose of that map.  Foys writes, “As maps become more and more accurate in their schematized signification, then, they become further and further divorced from ‘real’ perception of the space they reproduce” (117); we should read medieval maps therefore NOT as “an accurate indicator of physical space” (120) but as “datascapes” (120).

In adapting the medieval map to modern standards, as we did in our use of ArcGIS, we really just emphasized the ‘accuracy’ flaws without profiting from the rich information that’s within.

Indeed, when one looks at a medieval map it looks a lot more like the sort of map Rebecca and Zoe imagine for religious travelers– Jerusalem at the center of the world, out of proportion objects and images of peoples who intrigued more than one medieval mapmaker. Here’s a close-up of Ireland, England, part of France on the Catalan Atlas of 1375:

Geo-political and religious references are marked on the map– flags and churches for Nantes and Paris, flags representing factions and alliances in Ireland and England, and then a fairly long section of text, upside-down on the left which reports travel writing accounts of what can be found in various areas of the map. This is pretty close to seeing from a bird’s eye (the map) and street (first-person text) in the same space, though your eyes must dart between the two because those really are two positions that cannot inhabit the exact same space at the same moment.

As for the morality of using modern maps for older texts, or even old maps to read old texts, I think it’s the combination of these points of view, as long as we acknowledge our own position and the impossibility of inhabiting anything other than our own time and place, that gives us the most possibility for insight. With every map being political and every mapmaker and author having to work with his or her own impressions and preconceptions, I don’t think we could ever see what any author or mapmaker really saw, but it adds something for us to know that Nantes was almost as important as Paris in this mapmaker’s eyes (why, we must ask?) and that Ireland and England are roughly the same size. But we know that is worthy of remarking because on a modern map, Paris is much more central (geographically) to France and Ireland is far smaller than the UK.

Digital Pedagogies

We had a fantastic guest lecturer– Derek Bruff, from our own Center for Teaching. Quickly, some photos of what we did.

Digital Growing Pains

In our Digital Humanities class we are working on our final class projects in earnest. I decided to work with a partner on a project mapping text from The Travels of Sir John Mandeville. While I anticipated a learning curve for the new program we will be using, I didn’t realize the growing pains (albeit minor) I would experience in the preparatory phase of the project. Mainly, I underestimated the deceivingly simple search for the perfect map to use as the basis for my project. I assumed that once I had identified the historically appropriate antique map, we would be in business. I quickly found the map I wanted to use and got a digital copy, thinking I was done. However, as a novice DHer, I had underestimated the technical requirements of the software which necessitated a very high resolution map. Then, I began my search anew for the high resolution map at the library who owned a copy and was frustrated that it wasn’t available in high resolution. The solution, after a couple emails and advice, ended up being a simple constrained search on Google Images that revealed copyright-free high resolution maps. Looking back on my search at the very simple solution which could have originally taken me 5 minutes, I realized that my traditional scholarly mode got in the way. I was so focused on finding my map at a library, a “reputable” and scholarly source, that I ignored the easiest and most practical solution. I am not saying that we should ignore the sources we use, after all my map still has historical significance, but I learned that I have to be open to thinking differently about how I operate when it comes to DH. Just like a digital project is not the same as a printed book, the research may look different and have different avenues to explore. This simple little problem highlighted for me, yet again, that I need to be open to new methods and I need to reorient my thinking when working on a DH project- it is the same, but different, from my traditional research. Like in traditional research, you should expect twists and turns, but you should also enjoy and learn from the very experience of research and what it can teach you about your scholarship and yourself. Sometimes minor “growing pains” can turn into significant learning experiences.

Ruminations from a DH Conference

I am very proud of our little group of budding Digital Humanists. I am not too sure if you all realize how far you have gone and what you know, at this point.

I am presently at a DH “That Camp” in a large community of highly qualified scholars and techies. I have to tell you that you all clearly are well beyond a good percentage of these folk. I am not saying that this crowd is not “up to snuff,” what I am saying is that you all are now ahead of the game, by leaps and bounds. I want to make this clear. If you want further proof, and you think that your favorite cheerleader is trying to “make you feel good,” here is a quiz. The following are questions that I have heard from scholars and techies who consider themselves versed in DH.

-What’s a “Word Press?”
-Can you tell me what ” metadata” is?
-Why are there opening and closing tags in an HTML/XML/TEI document?
-Where can I get an Omeka?

Perhaps, before this course, you might have had these same questions. This knowledge is not innate. But, I have been thinking about you all during these sessions and realizing how far you’ve gone. Congratulations!


Departmental written guidelines

I had a lot of questions after reading the following sentence from the MLA website, “Guidelines for Evaluating Work with Digital Media in the Modern Languages”:

“Institutions and, when appropriate, departments should develop their own written guidelines so that faculty members engaged in research and teaching with digital media can be adequately and fairly evaluated and rewarded.”

 We have both the Department Chair and the Director of Graduate Studies as co-professors in this course — so I’m curious — does OUR department of French and Italian have written guidelines outlining the treatment/interpretation/rewarding of work with digital media, as used by its professors?  Does ANY department at Vanderbilt have this?  What would those guidelines look like in our own department? 

When we graduate students are on the job market, would it be appropriate to ask how “research and teaching with digital media [are] adequately and fairly evaluated and rewarded” (MLA website) bythe prospective department/institution?

Evaluating Digital Work

While most of the suggestions in our readings for this week on how to evaluate digital work are eminently practical, there are a couple suggestions that I did question, particularly in the current economic situation. I am not questioning their usefulness, as I feel that they are in general all good ideas, but whether departments will actually implement these ideas. The first, and most questionable to me for the level of practicality, was the suggestion of cluster hiring. Even before I read the paragraph about cluster hiring, the header made me think: what French department could afford that or be willing to budget for that in this economy? To be fair, the authors of the article clearly show that this may not be possible, and offer alternative advice including inviting visiting lecturers, etc. As I continued to read the article I pondered the financial practicality of suggestions like supplying potentially expensive equipment.While here at Vanderbilt we may have access to GIS technology and experts, what about at smaller schools? Admittedly, I have no experience with department finances and therefore perhaps these concerns are not as problematic as I think they could be. On the other hand, as a third year graduate student contemplating the job market in the coming years, all I hear is how the economy is affecting hiring, etc. This made me reflect on the the larger question of how will DH establish itself in this precarious economy. Will the innovation of DH be enough to propel it even in this economy? Will DH solutions be more cost effective and therefore preferable (we have suggested that they could be more cost effective than print)? Also, I think this relates to my previous post on the remediation in the digital age- maybe education about the new opportunities of digital media will help departments to make the investment in both people and resources to establish DH in their departments. I do not have the answers to any of these questions, but I do think that they make good food for thought.

Reflections on Martin Foys’ Visit

After reading Martin Foys’ Virtually Anglo-Saxon and then listening to his lecture, I have done a lot of reflecting on our discussions on remediation.  In particular, Foy’s discussion of digital media as a new form of media, similar to the advent of printed texts in the middle ages has really gotten me thinking. In my own simplified terms, Foys suggested that new media does not have its own logic from inception, so it must imitate the old media form before it can develop its own logic and then eventually reject the old media. Thinking of digital media in this fashion has kind of opened my eyes to more of the possibilities with DH. I think that we have been in the stage where digital media was “imitating” print media, and now we are at the point where we are trying to move past that stage. I realized that for me personally, despite my willingness to embrace DH, I have still been thinking of DH as I would print in many ways. This sort of thinking can be limiting on the imagination and can limit the usefulness of digital media for humanists because we are not exploring its full potential. I have found this revelation extremely useful simply in that it has freed me to be more creative and conceptualize totally new ways that I could explore my research.

I also think that part of the issue with those colleagues who may not embrace the digital humanities could be linked to this idea as well. If we view digital media as we do print then we may ask the question: Why do we need the digital humanities when we have print? One answer could be, because digital media can represent things that print simply cannot represent as well. For example, Foys suggested that depth can be shown in digital media in a way that print can never represent it.

Thanks again to Martin Foys for such an interesting and stimulating discussion!

Mediating historical texts through print

I found Foy’s discussion of the mediating and remediating effect of print. Two quotes in prticular struck me. First: “The brief historical and critical survey of the effect of print on Anglo-Saxon writing presented above extends Mitchell’s question and ponders how well the medium of print as a whole suits the early medieval form, function and cultural meaning of Anglo-Sacon discourse.” pg 20. This resonates with me after hearing a talk on the use of “traditional” (dare i say western) historical methods to include the Haitia Revolution into discourse on other 18th century revolutions. I was frustrated in that talk that we were not asking the right questions, and Foy’s text shows in a really engaging way that being aware of the mediating effects of print allows us to ask new and important questions of the medieval texts we study.


The second qute is quite lengthy, the first full paragraph on that same page. I found it very interesting to consider in concrete terms the ways in which print mediates (re)production, reading and interpretation of medieval texts…concrete ways like omissions, deletions, font style and even reconstructing endings eg the tapestry.

Map Accuracy

While reading over the excerpts from Foys’s book, especially Ch 4, I kept thinking of our attempts to map the medieval map onto a modern map while using ArcGIS.

I know that we all spent much time connecting green x to blue x in order to align the edges of the maps (April takes the cake with her 100+ alignments).  Regardless of the time spent, though, we could never make the maps fit exactly — “To modern eyes, these medieval worlds never seem quite right” (Foys 111).

We were trying to use a modern political map and precise GPS points from google maps to locate positions on a medieval map… which was NOT the purpose of that map.  Foys writes, “As maps become more and more accurate in their schematized signification, then, they become further and further divorced from ‘real’ perception of the space they reproduce” (117); we should read medieval maps therefore NOT as “an accurate indicator of physical space” (120) but as “datascapes” (120).

In adapting the medieval map to modern standards, as we did in our use of ArcGIS, we really just emphasized the ‘accuracy’ flaws without profiting from the rich information that’s within.

I look forward to hearing Foys’s opinion of ArcGIS and its applicability to medieval maps!