In the event, I’m afraid I didn’t make it to the Between the Islands conference I advertised here a while back. I could only do one day of the three, couldn’t bargain a discount because of this, and work needed me because so many other people were going; also, Alex Woolf, whom I was hoping to catch up with, had to cancel. But now I wish I had because of the press coverage it got. Yes, you read that right: an academic conference, nay, an academic conference on the Middle Ages got reported in, well, I count four different national dailies and the national TV channel’s website. when did that ever happen before? Here are the links:
- The Independent
- The Guardian
- The Daily Telegraph
- The Daily Mail (which didn’t report on the conference as such but has a humorous piece by Keith Waterhouse riffing on the press release)
- and The BBC
Now if you look closely at these, you may notice two things. Firstly, none of them actually got somebody who was at the conference to report. These are all reports on the press release by Dr Maire Ni Mhaonaigh. Secondly, they almost all distort the bejasus out of it. Every single headline is based on the idea I lampooned so readily when it appeared to be coming out of the Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic Department that organised this conference itself, at the end of last year, that the Vikings were fundamentally peaceful traders who contributed a great deal to the lands in which they settled (note: settled, not invaded). As you can read there, I would prefer to retain their violent side as well and don’t see why we can’t, but if you look at the quotes the papers give from the press release, it’s clear that Dr Ni Mhaonaigh wasn’t giving the soft-side case, but trying to achieve a balance. Someone who did go to the conference tells me that the word `raiding’ came up an awful lot, and that generally the tone of the papers was not even so pacificatory as the press release, but it is nonetheless true that the papers have only wanted to report one idea, the forty-year-old one that maybe the Vikings weren’t actually single-minded agents of mayhem. Why is that so titillating to journalists, or why do they think it is to the public?
Well, I was without ideas on this except that observing that my teaching experience suggests that really, nobody doesn’t love Vikings. However, I can now point you at a pretty darn clever consideration of this same question by the one-and-only Magistra et Mater, and suggest you take a look. Though I warn you: she uses words derived from `terror’ and therefore may have her blog shut down by the Man any minute. Go quickly, and then muse upon it for it is interesting.
(Cross-posted at Cliopatria with revisions for context.)