This is the first blog post from the World-Tree Project, which (in case we didn’t catch you on our Facebook or Twitter feeds) is a new community collection project in the field of Old Norse-Icelandic and Viking Studies, funded by an Irish Research Council ‘New Horizons’ Grant. Our aim over the 12 months of the project is to create an interactive digital archive for the teaching and study of the subject, which is both generated by and open to the public to use.
Community collection has proven to be a very effective tool in cultural heritage projects – some of the initiatives we’re following very closely include Europeana 1914-1918, Transcribe Bentham, and 1001 Stories Denmark, – and we’re very thankful that we can draw on these well documented initiatives in our foray into crowdsourcing Norse heritage. Though it demands a different approach, community collection has also been applied successfully to the early medieval period, most notably by Stuart Lee with his fantastic Woruldhord Project, an initiative of OUCS which collected together resources on the Anglo-Saxons and is still developing as a ‘living’ archive with over 4000 items contributed by members of the public, museums and libraries, academics, teachers, and societies.
Even with such steady shoulders to stand on, the prospect of creating the first community sourced archive on the Vikings is more than a little daunting. There are, of course, many, many different communities with an interest in the Viking Age, from local heritage groups and re-enactors, to institutions, civic bodies, and scholars, and even the term “Viking” means something slightly different in each of these contexts. The impact of Norse culture (or cultures) was not confined to Scandinavia, and there are communities across Europe with a stake in this shared heritage – often interpreting the past from quite different perspectives ranging from the scholarly to the casual; sometimes with a national or political inflection. Resources on the Viking Age (and there are some excellent resources out there) are presented in multiple languages, and some of the most interesting events and initiatives are happening at a local level and essentially invisible outside the community. Added to this is the extremely diffuse nature of collections of Viking artefacts, and the sheer geographical range of Viking sites – from the Norse settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland to runic graffiti in the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul. We are not dealing with one public, but with many, and with a subject that is profoundly interdisciplinary and (to make the first of many tree-related references) branching out in all directions.
So why enter into this tangle? Well, firstly, the benefits of linking up even a portion of the material that is out there far outweigh the difficulties of sourcing, contextualising and translating these sources. It will allow us to create useful connections and resources for teaching and learning, to remove some of the barriers to access, and hopefully open up a dialogue between academia and community level interest in the Viking Age. Secondly, the interdisciplinary nature of ONVS (Old Norse and Viking Studies) and the diffuse nature of the material in many ways lends itself to community collection – exploiting the potential of wide public interest in the period to generate a geographically wide-ranging and comprehensive archive. Thirdly, as mentioned earlier, we have the successes (and failures – more about this in a later post!) of previous projects on which to build, as well as a tested model through which to engage in targeted community collection (again, more on this later!) We have all the great functionality of the open-source content management system Omeka to exploit, and the national infrastructure for the preservation, curation and dissemination of cultural heritage through the Digital Repository of Ireland. Perhaps as importantly, we have a wonderful platform for academic collaboration in ONVS on which to build (including the recent collaborative doctoral training initiatives of the Orkney Project and Languages, Myths and Finds Project), and the expertise of the recently appointed postdoctoral researcher, Dr Ruarigh Dale, on which to draw.
Of course, there are certainly some unknowns and obstacles to overcome – and one of the goals of the project is to test whether the model for targeted community collection via personal networks and interaction works at an international level, and to gauge the most effective ways to collect, translate and exhibit resources on the Viking Age for different end-users. We also want to learn about whether it is possible to map the field (in terms of engagement with the Vikings) through community collection, and to understand the role that collaboration between universities and the expertise of the community might play in future research initiatives.
To ensure that our findings are useful to others working with (or considering working with) community collection or digitising cultural heritage, we’ll be writing regular blog posts not just about how archive is progressing, but also about the practicalities of the project, from setting up the web application to managing our Dublin Core.
Do follow us if this is something you are interested in (professionally or casually!) – there’ll be lots of opportunities to get involved.