19 February 2017

One Day Without Vikings?

I am a serial migrant. Twice in my life I have made the move to a new country (not including shorter stays of a few years in yet other countries), in both cases becoming a citizen and intending to stay. It looks like the second one is my forever home - I have now been a UK citizen for a quarter of a century and have no plans to move. In my first adopted country, I was schooled from a young age in the slogan 'No taxation without representation!' and that motivated me to become a citizen in my second adopted country - I was by then paying taxes and wanted to take a full part in the life of the country that was now home. I therefore naturally have an interest in tomorrow's National Day of Action on Feb 20th to Celebrate the Contributions of Migrants to the UK, or @1daywithoutus / #1daywithoutus.

But I also have a professional interest in the contributions of migrants, at least those in the past. If we take the long view historically, then of course everyone in these islands is a migrant, at least since the last Ice Age covered them, and I do think everyone should reflect on that simple fact, as well as on the contributions of migrants, whether over the last 10,000 years, or the last 10 years. Among the many identifiable groups who have made an enormous contribution to the life of these islands are the people of Scandinavian origin we call 'Vikings', who settled here between the ninth and eleventh centuries. To some they are best known for raiding and pillaging, as if they were the only people in the Early Middle Ages who did these things (they weren't). But most people also know that they moved into large swathes of eastern and northern England, into large parts of Scotland, and that they founded towns and other settlements in Ireland. These immigrants were not raiders and warriors, but farmers and traders, and families with women and children as well as men.

What was their contribution? Well, by farming the land and engaging in local, national and international trade, they made the contribution to the economy that we normally expect of immigrants (and the indigenous inhabitants, too?), and they paid their taxes. They came in sufficient numbers for their language and culture to become an indelible part of the language and culture of these islands. Even the first word in the previous sentence comes from Old Norse, this infiltration of some of the most basic features of the language (in this case a pronoun) being unprecedented in any other migration other than that of the Anglo-Saxons before them. At the other extreme, the English word 'law' comes from Old Norse - the Vikings gave us the very foundation of this nation's existence. It is not possible to have one day without Vikings, even now in the twenty-first century.

Words and place-names of Old Norse origin are around you, everywhere, everyday. You can find out more about the Vikings' contribution to the English language through the Gersum project. You can learn more about English place-names of Old Norse origin at the Key to English Place-Names. You can also find out about physical objects from the Viking period through for example the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture. And this year is the Year of the Viking, when you can come to Nottingham for a special British Museum / York Museums Trust exhibition opening in November. As well as the exhibition, there will be a lot of different events dedicated to explaining the contributions of those migrants, the Vikings, branded as 'Bringing the Vikings Back to the East Midlands'. These will be advertised on the website of the Centre for the Study of the Viking Age at the University of Nottingham, so keep your eye out there! Or just follow Viking Midlands on Twitter - the project is currently in its infancy but more information will follow soon.

In the meantime, remember the migrants, not just tomorrow, but every day!

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