Very old, yes, but medieval literature is far from antiquated, as a conference at Flinders this week confirms.
Medieval sagas and themes for the basis of current entertainment’s most successful blockbusters – for example, Game of Thrones, the Vikings series and Thor movies – has sparked a surge of interest in Flinders University’s longstanding Vikings and Anglo-Saxon Literature course.
Expertise in this literary field is further underlined by Flinders University hosting the 13th International Conference of the Australian Early Medieval Association, being held at the Flinders Bedford Park campus and Victoria Square, Adelaide on July 20 and 21.
Co-convened by Flinders University lecturer Dr Erin Sebo, the conference program features almost 30 presenters from around Australia and overseas. It covers a diverse spread of topics – from Cultural Exchanges and Travel and Warfare, to Emperors and Kings – that underline the lasting significance and influence of medieval literature.
Flinders Old English and Old Norse course is a leader in Australia, with lecturers Dr Sebo and Dr Lisa Bennett’s using innovative teaching methods to help students explore the myriad areas of medieval languages and literature.
This includes Dr Bennett dressing in an authentic Viking-era outfit while delivering lectures, and offering Viking food made by the lecturers according to recipes of the time.
“We want to bring the subject alive for students,” says Dr Bennett.
“We challenge them to think beyond stereotypes of marauding Saxons or Vikings in horned helmets, but instead to view them also as poets, travellers, farmers, entrepreneurs.
“This gives them exciting new insights into history and helps them to interpret modern texts – like video games and popular TV shows – from new angles.”
Dr Bennett says her students have enjoyed tackling both the Old Norse and Old English texts along with aspects of their language in the English and Creative Writing course offered by the Flinders College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.
“The Anglo-Saxons of England produced the earliest works of English literature, and their world overlapped – often colliding with – the world of Vikings, whose stories are related in Old Norse literature from the from the eighth to eleventh centuries,” she says.
Dr Bennett is striving to frame medieval texts in a modern framework, and is currently drafting a novel which is a work of historical speculative fiction based on the life of a famous Viking Age woman.
She is also collaborating with Dr Kim Wikins on a non-fiction monograph entitled Vikings in Popular Culture. Dr Sebo is collaborating with Old English students on a fresh translation of the epic medieval tale Beowulf.
Several Flinders University presentations will be given at the conference.