There Were Vikings All Around Us!

This weekend my daughter, Jessica, and I attended the 13th Annual Viking Festival in Vista, California. This is organized by the Norwegian Fish Club Odin and the local Sons of Norway and is their biggest fundraiser of the year. Through the years we have attended large and small Renaissance faires, and this felt a lot like those. There was food, music and other entertainment along with vendors selling everything from jewelry to weapons. Jessica bought a horned Viking hat.

To get visitors into the spirit of the gathering, there were signs written in Old Norse and information sheets placed around the venue so you could learn more about the Vikings. It was great fun watching kids and adults learn how to throw spears and axes and to use a bow and arrow. I love when kids learn about history in such a fun way that they don’t realize they are learning.

Press photos - VIKING exhibition - the National Museum of Denmark 22 juni - 17 november 2013. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Press photos – VIKING exhibition – the National Museum of Denmark 22 juni – 17 november 2013. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Besides all the fun things to do (and to eat), the workers and many of the attendees dressed in period costume. After the festival, I did a little online research into Viking clothing and discovered that when you perform an internet search for “Viking clothing” you get a lot of sites either selling or discussing costumes used for faires, festivals, living history groups and history re-enactment. Also Minnesota Vikings branded clothing, which many in my family wear proudly. I know, being part of a Scandinavian family from Minnesota is such a cliché.

Reconstructed Vikings costume on display at Archaeological Museum in Stavanger, Norway. Photo: Wolfmann

Reconstructed Vikings costume on display at Archaeological Museum in Stavanger, Norway. Photo: Wolfmann

I’d never thought much about what the Vikings wore, except that I knew the Scandinavian countries are really cold and warmth was probably a primary concern. The Viking period is from the late 8th century through the late 11th century. Since that was about a thousand years ago, we don’t have any photos of what they wore, and no contemporary artwork that I could find. One of the pieces I read during this bit of research was “Clothing in the Viking Age” at the Hurstwic site, about Viking Combat Training and so much more. Take the time to read it if you are at all interested in the subject, or if you want to decide if the show Vikings on The History Channel gets it right.

Because fabric rots if buried in the ground for a thousand years, we have very few fabric remains from the time of the Vikings. The piece pictured below was found on a body buried in a bog, which preserved both the body and the cloth. There have also been a very few pieces which were preserved when the cloth was covered in pitch and used in building or repairing those famous Viking ships.

The tunic found together with Nederfrederiksmose Man (also known as Kraglund Man or Frederiksdal Man) which was a bog body found on May 25th 1898 in Fattiggårdens mose near the village Kragelund, north west of Silkeborg, Denmark. The find dates to 1099 AD. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The tunic found together with Nederfrederiksmose Man (also known as Kraglund Man or Frederiksdal Man) which was a bog body found on May 25th 1898 in Fattiggårdens mose near the village Kragelund, north west of Silkeborg, Denmark. The find dates to 1099 AD. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Much of our information about Viking clothing and culture comes from Norse literature, the sagas. Most clothing was made from linen, wool and animal skins. The style of clothing and amount of certain materials used were an indication of status and wealth. Time-intensive trim and other decorative elements were also a symbol of higher status. Basically, if you have time to create decoration, then you’re not spending all your time on basic survival and must be very wealthy indeed.

Wikingerfrauen, Trzcinica. (I think this is a Viking festival in southern Poland.) Photo: Silar

Wikingerfrauen, Trzcinica. (I think this is a Viking festival in southern Poland.) Photo: Silar

If you’ve never been to one of these history-based festivals or faires, I hope you consider finding one in your area and checking it out. The people wearing period costumes do so because they have a passion for that period of history and they try to be as historically accurate as possible. Because they are so passionate, they are usually willing to discuss their costumes with anyone who wants to learn. So go have some fun, eat some good food, maybe drink some mead (the raspberry hyacinth mead was especially good), and learn a little history.

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129 Years and Counting

The first week of January is a big deal for historians, especially those of the academic persuasion. This past weekend, January 2-5, the American Historical Association (AHA) held their 129th annual meeting in New York City.

The AHA is the granddaddy of American historical societies. It was founded in 1884 partly to establish professional standards for history as an academic discipline. The founders were also interested in collecting and preserving historical documents, teaching history and encouraging new historical research. From the beginning, academic papers have been presented at their annual meetings.

Executive officers of the American Historical Association at the time of the Association's incorporation by Congress, photographed during their annual meeting on December 30, 1889 in Washington Seated (L to R) are William Poole, Justin Winsor, Charles Kendall Adams (President), George Bancroft, John Jay (Died 1829?), and Andrew Dickson White, Standing (L to R) are Herbert B. Adams and C. W. Bowen. This photo appeared in the February 1890 issue of the Magazine of American History. The Photographer was from M.B. Brady Studio.

Executive officers of the American Historical Association at the time of the Association’s incorporation by Congress, photographed during their annual meeting on December 30, 1889 in Washington Seated (L to R) are William Poole, Justin Winsor, Charles Kendall Adams (President), George Bancroft, John Jay (Died 1829?), and Andrew Dickson White, Standing (L to R) are Herbert B. Adams and C. W. Bowen. This photo appeared in the February 1890 issue of the Magazine of American History. The Photographer was from M.B. Brady Studio.

Today the AHA is the oldest and largest society of historians in the United States. Their official publication is The American Historical Review, an academic peer reviewed journal established in 1895 and now published by Oxford University Press. Their other publication is Perspectives on History, a newsmagazine concerned with the discipline of history rather than the publication of new research.

The AHA website is a treasure trove of free articles and directories. It also includes a blog, career resources for historians, professional standards, membership information, a wiki about historical archive holdings, and information about AHA awards, prizes and fellowships.

But today I want to talk about the annual meeting. With 128 years of experience, they know how to organize a meeting. They had sponsors, exhibits, affiliated associations, a job fair, and tours highlighting the history of the host city, New York City. The theme for this year was History and the Other Disciplines and you can view the full program here. If you click on any of the days you can see a full listing of program offerings. Click into any of those listings for a full description and list of presenters.

This is incredibly valuable information to anyone interested in current scholarly research. For example, if you are a writer or reader of historical fiction, there was a panel session called Historians Writing Fiction: Inside the Academy and also its counterpart, Historians Writing Fiction: Outside the Academy.

Here is a small sampling of sessions to show you the diversity available.

If you are interested in any of these topics, or any of the many others listed on the meeting website, please check out the authors presenting the papers or participating in panel discussions. Historians generally specialize, so chances are the speakers have already published something on that topic.

I like to watch videos and read articles from the AHA general meetings, so I go to George Mason University’s History News Network, also known as HNN. I highly recommend joining their mailing list. A couple of times a week you’ll get an email with the top stories not only about history, but also about historians.

I mentioned another historical society in a previous post, the Detroit Drunken History Society. Although both groups are about history, the differences between them perfectly illustrates that if you are interested in history, there is something for everyone.

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Detroit Drunken Historical Society

There are tons of historical societies and associations of various types that you can join if you are interested in history. There are local, national and international organizations, and ones that cater to different interests, have varying requirements for involvement and levels of structure and formality. I will discuss some of these individually in future posts and hopefully you will find one that is a good fit for you.

Today I’ve singled out one group in my ongoing quest to show that history can be fun and interesting. I’m not sure where I first heard of this group, but I wrote it down on my “research someday” list. Now that I’ve done some research, I want to share with you what I know about the Detroit Drunken Historical Society.

This historical society started with a meetup.com page in January 2012 and has grown to more than 3,200 members. Don’t let the name throw you. They don’t limit discussions to alcohol related history, but they do generally hold their meetings in bars, where drinking and discussion are encouraged. Or not drinking and discussion. Teetotalers are welcome and encouraged to join.

The Detroit Drunken Historical Society does not have a web page, but you can view their meetup.com page even if you are not a registered user. There you can check out the variety of things they have been learning about Detroit history and their delivery methods for that education.

Recent topics of discussion include the Great Lakes Storm of 1913, ragtime, brewing, the Underground Railroad and boxing. You can also view upcoming events and I see that they are organizing a meetup about Rock City music history. As you can see in the music history entry, they reach out to their members for ideas and assistance

The presenters include historians, published authors, archivists and docents. Again, the organizers involve the members. In December they are kicking off a monthly Working Papers meeting where anyone working on a research project about Detroit can present their project for feedback. Besides guest speakers, they also go on walking tours, tour historical buildings and even go on kayak trips to see things from a different perspective.

Although many of their events are free (well, you do buy your own drinks), sometimes there is a small cover charge or a suggested donation. There is also sometimes a limit to the number of guests, usually in the case of a tour where it benefits the tour guide not to be spread too thin. If they have a big enough waiting list, they’ll try to add a second opportunity for that event.

What most impressed me is that this group appears to be very collaborative and to have evolved over time to meet the needs of its members. Members are encouraged to suggest venues and topics and also seem willing to tap their own contacts for venues or tours. Basically, they all love history, and Detroit, and want to share.

So what about those of us who don’t live anywhere near Detroit? Every city or town has stories, but often those stories are so much a part of our experience as a local that we don’t give it much thought. If you are interested in starting your own local history group to share those stories, you can contact the organizers of Detroit Drunken Historical Society at their meetup.com page. I reached out to them and received a nice email stating they would absolutely love to hear from anyone wanting to start their own city’s Drunken Historical Society. It sounds like a great way to meet new people and learn some of those things you didn’t know you wanted to know.

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