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An examination of the ideologies underlying nineteenth century scholarly researches into the Viking Age

Carole Cusack

Honours IV Thesis, Religious Studies, University of Sydney, 1984

It is often the case with scholarly works that they tell the reader as much about the society which produced the scholar, as about the society being studied. This is, perhaps, inevitable; to approach a subject completely free from prejudices, and from almost unconscious preconceptions, is difficult to say the least. But it should not be assumed that the author always seeks to be unbiased; the past can be used to illuminate, or even legitimate, the present, through deliberate manipulation of data. This thesis concerns the (more or less) systematic rehabilitation of the Viking Period, which was undertaken by a collection of poets and philologists, scholars and amateurs, from the latter half of the eighteenth century through the Victorian Era into the twentieth century. The reasons underlying their efforts were, in both the broad and the narrow sense, political. For example, William Morris was a Socialist, and he employed his knowledge of pre-Christian Scandinavian society in the development of a Socialist Utopia. Similarly, William Stubbs was an authority on the Anglo-Saxon legal system, and this enabled him to convincingly argue for the Germanic origin of the English democratic institutions. The works discussed range from crude propaganda to painstakingly accurate translations, and as such there are varying levels of subtlety in their ideological messages.

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