Pierce Elizabeth A., Identity at the far edge of the earth

Pierce Elizabeth A., Identity at the far edge of the earth : an examination of cultural identity manifested in the material culture of the North Atlantic, c. 1150-1450, Thèse de doctorat soutenue en 2011, (dir. C. E. Batey, Université de Glasgow)

Résumé/abstract :
Beginning in the late eighth century A.D., the Vikings of Scandinavia expanded westward, first to raid and later to settle and trade. By the 11th century, they inhabited territory extending into the North Atlantic, including the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland. These settlements were by no means monocultural and were located hundreds of miles away from the population centres of medieval Europe. In time, this distance and the relative isolation of the region contributed to the development of new cultural identities of the inhabitants. Unfortunately, the Middle Ages have not received as much attention as the Viking Age in the North Atlantic, and little has been written about identity in the North Atlantic aside from the underlying assumption that the people were Norwegian prior to forming their own local identities. This thesis aims to examine these identities over the entire North Atlantic region by studying the relationships between the island groups and questioning how the inhabitants used material culture to interact within a larger European, Christian milieu. Focussing on the period c. 1150-1450, this thesis approaches the cultural identity of these societies by evaluating the material culture and practices of the inhabitants using theoretical frameworks in identity, material culture, and island archaeology that have rarely, if ever, been applied in the medieval North Atlantic. Because of the wide geographical scope of this study, three case studies of artefact assemblages will be used: one each in the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland. These assemblages will be analysed both for the style and form of the objects and for the domestic and overseas contacts they represent, using the British Isles and Norway as starting points because of their known contacts with the North Atlantic. Material culture can be manipulated in order to create identities that give the user certain social, political or economic advantages. Understanding the material choices made in the North Atlantic, such as church architecture, clothing, table wares and dress accessories, can help us to understand the identities these people sought to portray. Further, using the abovementioned theoretical approaches, this thesis attempts to understand why certain material choices were made and what advantages those people hoped to gain by using that material culture. It is hoped that this thesis will help to illustrate the role that material culture played in cultural identity of the North Atlantic settlements in the Middle Ages, and to promote further discussion of identity in the North Atlantic on a regional level in this period.

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