Last week, I was very lucky to get to travel to Malmö, Sweden, for an academic workshop on “Recreating the Viking Age”. The organisers had invited one of my supervisors, Dr. Alex Sanmark, as a keynote speaker and kindly let me come along.
I might have mentioned it a few times before but it is worth repeating: One of the best aspects of working with runes in Orkney is that I get to do plenty of fieldwork in the most amazing landscape I have ever seen. Just like last weekend: The archaeologist Chris Gee had mentioned that he had some time ago discovered a runic inscription at the ruined broch of Borwick, which sits on top of the magnificent cliffs of Yesnaby.
A question that arises in many conversations I have both in Orkney and abroad is why on earth I decided to spend three years of my life studying and writing about runes. The prevalent opinion seems to be that, after all, there are futhark tables to transliterate them on the internet, so that basically everything should be known. However, I believe studying runes is more necessary today than it was ever before.
This year, Orkney seems to enjoy exceptionally mild weather in December, so I decided to use the opportunity for some fieldwork for my PhD research. In my case, this meant looking at some accessible runic inscriptions myself.
I am now finishing the second month of my PhD, and one thing I have learned: When you’re doing research on an island in the North Atlantic, you better don’t have any fear of flying in small planes or ferry crossings in high waves – travelling is a big part of any academic’s diary, and being based in Orkney does not make it easier for that matter.
This October, I am starting my PhD project with the Centre for Nordic Studies in Kirkwall. I moved up here all the way from Southern Germany because Orkney has plenty of a certain thing that absolutely fascinates me – runes. But it is not the symbols per se which I am going to research. I am going to look at what runes can tell us about perceptions and expressions of identities in the Viking diaspora.