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This article is the third in the Scandinavian sources series. The first article is on the primary sources, the second article is on the theoretical filters found in secondary sources, and this article is a case study on how to navigate around the sources and data on a research project. So here are some guidelines and tips on how to do research on a common topic, Vikings.
You would think that finding information on such a broad topic would be relatively easy. Although there is certainly a great deal of scholarship on Vikings it is not neatly categorized. Nor is it located in any one place or under a couple of key terms. The first criteria for doing your research will be patience. While the first step is knowing how to find, or discover common alternate terms for an area of interest. One useful tool for alternate terms is the Guide to the Listings of the Library of Congress. This guide provides topic listings used by libraries to categorize information. The guide and discussing your project with the reference librarian for additional ideas will assist in making your research project a success.
A second step is understanding the current state of information be it on-line, CD, or traditional. Critical to the success of a search is an awareness of the current limitations for on-line or CDrom databases. While the information is increasingly more available on-line it is not perfect nor complete. Never assume that if it isn't on-line it doesn't exist. At least half of the research work you will do will be in the older bound sources. The United States the National Union Catalog series pre 1956 is still a good starting place for primary sources and odd collections. Another useful source is the 1988 listing of archives in the United States. A third source for information is the Encyclopedia of Associations which lists professional groups by interest and any related publications. All offer alternate routes to finding the information on your topic.
One problem in researching Medieval Scandinavia will at first sight look like a miscataloging of material. This is a misconception of the situation. Some of the difficulty lies in the history of libraries and librarianship. Major shifts in topics can be attributed to the changes in library science, increased information, or amendments in field theory. Despite the cause the practical problems remain particularly when trying to locate primary published documents or older works. The most common problems you as a researcher will encounter are duplication, odd listings, and piecemeal information.
1. Duplication. It is not unusual for the same work to be listed several different ways. The computer listing is based on the older individual library or collection citation the older the work the more variable the listings. So it is quite common to find four or five citation forms quite different from each other for the exact same book or article.
2. Odd listings. Sometimes a source name is used as the author even if there is an editor or translator. Sometimes the committee funding the research is listed as the editor or author instead of a single individual. It is easier to discover such a variant in a bound source than on-line.
3. Piecemeal information. Often information on a topic bridges established chronological or geographical lines. It may be necessary to expand a search to find all the relevant information. However a broad term, such as VIKINGS, will also turn up some unexpected listings about the Minnesota Vikings or the Viking Space project. If you are fortunate your on-line search program will allow you to filter out unwanted alternates. However, the researcher must be aware that the possibility exists for such surprises.
The common problems can also be exacerbated when the people imputing the data do not possess important training such as language. Since the languages for Scandinavian sources are unusual some of the people who have done either the cataloging or the input do not read the base languages of the primary sources. Unfamiliarity with either the language or the field makes some of the listings difficult to find. Most of the problems listed above are less common with newer works than with older sources. It is in the older sources that you as a researcher will find the most variance.
With those warnings in mind you should have no difficulty working your way through the available material. As an example here is a representational search on Vikings. It is useful to see a typical search, what the standard keywords, topics, and chronological breaks are for a popular subject. This particular search was done for a class in 1992 at Western Washington University. Included were the university's listed book sources. The available information and the collection on Scandinavia are quite typical for smaller state universities. So the assignment for your research is something on the vikings, here are some of the major topic breaks and keywords.
For History: Before 1000 A.D.: Northmen, after 1000 A.D.: Vikings. If you are interested in a specific group focus your search on a country: Countries of Origin: Norway, Sweden, Denmark
Countries of Contact: Iceland, France, England, Ireland, Orkney Islands, Shetlands, Scotland, Greenland, Vinland, Russia, Byzantine Empire. Alternate names: Northmen, Norsemen, Norse, Varingians, Rus, Danes. See also: immigration, migration, settlement, raid, viking ships, and Danelaw.
For Literature: If you are interested in the poetry of the Vikings search under: Edda, Eddic Poetry, Snorri Sturlasson, Skalds, Scops, Bards, or Havamal.
If you are interested in the stories of the Vikings search under: Saga, Icelandic literature, Old Icelandic Literature, or Old Norse Literature.
For Language: If you are interested in the language of the Vikings search under: Icelandic, Old Icelandic, or Old Norse.
For Mythology: If you are interested in the religion or the mythology of the Vikings search under: Old Norse Mythology, Odin, Thor, Loki, Frey, Freya, Aesir, Vanir, or Elder Edda.
For Anthropology: If you are interested in anthropological information about Vikings search under: Teutonic, Germanic, Icelandic Kinship, Henry Lewis Morgan, or Tribal Custom.
For Archaeology: If you are interested in the archaeological information about the Vikings search under: Roskilde Fjord, Viking ships, towns in the viking age, York, Oseberg, Bergen harbor, Tune, Goteberg, rune stones, Jelling stone, Viking art, gripping beast, ribbon beast, hack silver, coins.
When the class did its research project they also collected a bibliography of material available on the topic in Western Washington University's library card catalog. This bibliography is included as part of this article because the holdings in Wilson Library is quite typical in its holdings. The library is also typical for many smaller state colleges in its history. Library organization reflects the changes in both the university and in library science. Originally the university was a teachers college later it was made a state regional college and finally it was made the regional university. When the research project occurred, in 1992, Wilson Library had no on-line databases that included the collection in Wilson. It also has a double catalog system: the older works are Dewey decimal and the newer works are Library of Congress. However, the last few years have seen an upgrading of the library. Today the library has all its collection listed on-line and is part of the growing on-line resource system.
Bibliography on the Vikings
in Wilson Library
Arbman, Holger. The Vikings. trans. Alan Binns.
- New York: Praeger, 1961. DL65/ A723.
Bekker-Neilsen, Hans, Peter Foote, and Olaf Olsen eds.
- Proceedings of the Eighth Viking Congress. Odense: Odense University Press, 1981. DL65/ V53/1977.
Brent, Peter L. The Viking Saga. New York: Putnam, 1975.
Brogger, Anton Wilhelm. The Viking Ships, Their Ancestry
- and Evolution. trans. Katherine John. Oslo: Dreyers Forlag; Los Angeles: K.K. Mogensen, 1953. VM/ 17/B715.
Brondsted, Johannes. The Vikings. trans. Kalle Skov.
- Baltimore, Maryland: Penguin Books, 1965. DL65/ .B713/ 1965.
Connery, Donald S. The Scandinavians. New York: Simon and
Davidson, H.R.E. The Viking Road to Byzantium. London:
- Schuster, 1966. DL/ 5/ C6.
- G. Allen & Unwin, 1976. DL65/ D35.
Du Chaillu, Paul B. The Viking Age 2 vols. New York: Scribner,
Enterline, James R. Viking America: The Norse Crossing and
- Their Legacy. New York: Doubleday, 1972. E/105/E58.
Foote, Peter. The Viking Achievement. New York: Praeger, 1970
DL65/ F6/ 1970.
Froncek, Thomas. The Northmen. New York: Time-Life Books,
- 1974. DL65/ F74.
Geipel, John. The Viking Legacy: The Scandinavian Influence
- on the English and Gaelic Languages. Newton: Abbot, David & Charles, 1971. PE/1582/S3/S4.
Ingstad, Helke Marcus. Westward to Vinland: The Discovery
- of Pre-Columbian Norse House Sites in North America. trans. Erik J. Friis. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1969. DL65/ I513/1969.
Jones, Gwyn. A History of the Vikings. London: Oxford University
- Press, 1968. DL/31/J6.
Kendrick, Thomas Downing. A History of the Vikings. London:
- Frank Cass, 1968. DL65/ K27/1968.
Kirkby, Michael H. The Vikings. New York: Dutton, 1977.
Klindt-Jensen, Ole. Viking Art. Ithaca, New York: Cornell
- University Press, 1966. N/7003/.K563.
---. The World of the Vikings. Washington: R.B. Luce, 1970.
Kormakssaga: the Life and Death of Cormac the Skald.
- trans. W.G. Collingwood and Jon Stefansson. New York: AMS Press, 1982. PT/ 7269/K7/E5/1982.
Linklater, Eric. The Ultimate Viking. New York: Harcourt, Brace,
. The Conquest of England. New York: Dell Publishing Co.,
- 1968. DA/ 152/ L5/ 1968.
Logan, F. Donald. The Vikings in History. Totowa, New Jersey:
- Barnes and Noble Books, 1983. DL65/L63/1983.
Loyn, H.R. The Vikings in Britain. New York: St. Martin's
- Press, 1977. DA 158/ L68/1977.
Magnusson, Magnus. Viking!. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1980.
Mallet, Paul H. Northern Antiquities; or an Historical
- account of the Manners, Customs, Religion and Laws, Maritime Expeditions and discoveries, Language and Literature of the Ancient Scandinavians, (Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, and Icelanders) with incidental Notices and Reflections on our Saxon Ancestors. New York: AMS Press, 1968. DL31/ .M26.
Mediaeval Scandinavia Vol. 1-6 & 9-12. DL/ 1/ M4.
Morrison, Ian. The North Sea Earls:
- The Shetland/Viking Archaeological Expedition. London: Gentry Books, 1973. DA/ 880/S5/M67.
O'dell, Andrew C. The Scandinavian World. GEOG./DL/5/S44.
Olrik, Axel. Viking Civilization. New York: American
- Scandinavian Foundation; Kraus Reprint, 1971. DL31/ .05313/ 1971.
Oxenstierna, E. The World of the Norsemen. New York: The
- World Publishing Co., 1967. DL21/ .0913.
Oxenstierna, Eric C. The Norsemen. trans. Catherine Hutter.
- Greenwich, Conn.: N.Y. Graphic Society Publications, 1965. DL65/ .0933.
Pohl, Frederic Julius. The Viking Settlements of North
- America. New York: C.N. Potter, 1972. E/105/P66/1972.
Randsborg, Klaus. The Viking Age in Denmark. New York: St.
Martin's Press, 1980. DL/162/R36/1980.
Sawyer, Peter. Kings and Vikings: Scandinavia and Europe,
- A.D. 700-1100. New York: Methuen, 1982. DL65/ S254/ 1982.
---. Names, Words, and Graves: Early Medieval Settlement.
- University of Leeds, 1978. DL/ 4.5/ N35.
Simpson, Jacqueline, trans. The Northmen Talk: A Choice of Tales
- from Iceland. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1965. PT/ 7221/.E5S5.
Smyth, Alfred P. Scandinavian Kings in the British Isles, 850-
- 880. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. DA152/ S63.
Varangian Problems: Report on the 1st International Symposium
- on the Theme: The Eastern Connections of the Nordic Peoples in the Viking Period and Early Middle Ages. Moesgaard: University of Aarhus, 1968. PG1/ S43/ no.1.
Wernick, Robert. The Vikings. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life
- Books, 1979. DL65/ W43.
Wilson, David McKenzie. The Vikings and Their Origins:
- Scandinavia in the first Millennium. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970. DL31/ W54/ 1970.
As you can see from the article, there is a wealth of information old and new, but it needs digging out. Information about trends and research in Scandinavia often stays firmly put and known only Scandinavia. A recent study on settlement patterns in Scandinavia noted that the issues of settlement had been studied for over a decade in the North. The unavailability of the information was placed firmly at the feet of language and publication patterns for Scandinavian scholars. (Desertion and Land Colonization in the Nordic Countries c. 1300-1600, 9) That lack of access and information time lag is also true in the United States. Most information on Scandinavia lags five to ten years before it is commonly available in the United States. The best and most current information is often in articles, conference papers, or theses and dissertations. That information is often not in English but rather in Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Russian, or Icelandic.
Language is one reason for the delay and publication patterns is another. One publication pattern typical of Europe is the publication of new research in the local historical group journal not in a major journal as in the United States. Another difference between the United States and Europe is publication of a thesis or dissertation by the author. It has not been common in the last few decades for an academic in the United States to pay to publish a thesis or dissertation. This is a pattern that is changing and American scholars are more and more likely to publish an initial scholarly work in the European pattern. The end result is that new information is difficult to find in English unless one has access to a major university where Scandinavian studies, languages, and specialists congregate or unless one regularly visits Scandinavia.
The situation is changing much for the better. Throughout Scandinavia there is a push by all the Scandinavian countries to put information out on the Internet. In Iceland the Haskoli (Iceland's main university) is placing all the definitive editions of the sagas and primary material in an accessible database. In Sweden there is the Runeberg Project. Like the Gutenberg Project its aim is to make available on-line all public domain sources and material. The Danes have a their state museum and many of their archival sources available on-line for public perusal. While the Norwegians have just implemented the fastest datalink in Scandinavia, Nordlink, which transmits data in 900 page per second chunks. All the Nordic nations are aware that accessibility to the material is in the long run cheaper.
Research on Medieval Scandinavia is quite possible provided you go into the project with awareness. Language, availability, and timelag notwithstanding the history of the area is rich. It is also a field currently experiencing a resurgence in interest and reassessment. Such environments are fertile ground for anyone interested in the journey off the well mapped environs of Medieval studies. As an experienced explorer I welcome you to the unparalleled beauty of the North.
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