Over £850,000 has been made by medieval scholars from the Universities of Durham, Oslo and Vienna and the University of the Highlands and Islands, Centre for Nordic Studies, Orkney, by the Humanities in Europe Research Awards Scheme. This will fund a three-year, international effort, known as The Assembly Project, is designed to explore the role of assemblies or things in the creation, consolidation and maintenance of collective identities, emergent polities and kingdoms in early medieval Northern Europe.
Orkney and Shetland are to be research sites for a major project looking at the way the Viking communities governed themselves and strengthened their groups.
Around £118,000 has been awarded to the Centre for Nordic Studies for research on administrative organisation and Norse “thing”, meaning governing assembly, sites in areas of Viking settlement and colonisation.
The centre – supported by UHI, the prospective University of the Highlands and Islands – is involved in a three-year project with Oslo, Vienna and Durham universities.
Dr Alexandra Sanmark at the Centre for Nordic Studies, one of four principal investigators, won a bid for a total £850,000 from the Humanities in Europe Research Awards. The Assembly Project was ranked third out of 168 applications from across Europe.
The Centre for Nordic Studies research will involve archaeological fieldwork on outdoor parliament and court sites in Orkney and Shetland, as well as an Orkney workshop and an exhibition planned for 2011. Findings will be compared and contrasted to the situation in the Viking homelands.
Centre director Dr Donna Heddle said: “The development and strengthening of early historic European collectives lie at the centre of our current understanding of Europe. This project will fit in well with the centre's research agenda. I am absolutely delighted that our strategic significance has been recognised.”
Research will involve archaeological fieldwork on outdoor parliament and court sites in Orkney and Shetland, as well as an Orkney workshop and an exhibition planned for 2011, Dr Heddle explained. Findings will then be compared and contrasted to the situation in the Viking homelands, she added.
Bill Ross, principal of Orkney College UHI welcomed what now amounts to two successful project proposals relating to things. He added: “Orkney College, through our archaeology department, is a partner in another major project funded by the Northern Peripheries Programme (NPP) of the EU and focusing on linking and developing thing sites with partners in Shetland, Norway, Iceland, the Highlands of Scotland and the Isle of Man.
“We are currently looking closely at how the projects will complement each other with a view to making the total impact greater than the sum of the two parts”
The NPP things project is being led by Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, who presented an acclaimed paper on thing sites at the Orkney-based Viking conference, Maritime Societies, in 2008, and is now co-editing the conference proceedings with Dr James Barrett of Cambridge University.
Dr Gibbon is hoping to undertake fieldwork this summer on the Orkney assembly sites.
For the NPP project, a two-islands event, hosted jointly with Shetland Amenity Trust, is planned for mid April, with details to be advertised later.
“It is exactly this kind of high quality, international knowledge exchange that raises our profile, brings visitors and makes archaeology work for the community in Orkney” stated Julie Gibson, Orkney’s county archaeologist, whose background is also in medieval archaeology.
Dr Jane Downes, head of archaeology in Orkney College, UHI stated. “We are now partners in two out of the three significant projects studying the subject across Britain and Europe — this is good news.”
Another £115,000 from the grant will come to Durham University to fund research on assemblies and assembly places and the creation of national identities in Britain and Europe.
See also the article: Places of Assembly: New Discoveries in Sweden and England