Announcing the publication of World History Connected, 17.1, Vikings in World History

Marc Gilbert's picture
February 26, 2020 to June 29, 2020
Hawaii, United States
Subject Fields: 
Cultural History / Studies, European History / Studies, History Education, Immigration & Migration History / Studies, World History / Studies

 As Elizabeth M. Swedo reminds us in her introduction to this issue's chief subject, the Vikings, they have "acquired a savage reputation in the stories of their victims, mostly written by inhabitants of medieval Christian Europe," but more recently, they have come to be regarded "not only as successful raiders, but also builders of towns and astute merchants; brilliant seafarers; and diligent farmers; skilled craftsmen and savvy political players." This issue's Forum, or curated set of articles, addresses new approaches to research and also the scholarship of teaching this subject even in courses with little or no direct treatment of the Vikings themselves.

In her own contributing article, Swedo asserts that the "re-branding" of the Vikings offers a means to introduce a degree of complexity "that can be effectively integrated into world history curricula." That argument is supported by a literature review and lesson plans which enable students to "practice doing the work of historians to gain an understanding of how our knowledge of the Vikings—and the past—is compiled," while providing models for "considering how the Vikings have been (mis)understood, (mis)represented, and appropriated throughout the centuries."

Ellen Ahlness, in her contribution to the Forum, demonstrates how the past as influencing the present by illuminating the legacy of the Vikings through the evolution of "tings" (pr. Things, or Councils, and its possible origin of the English word, "thing"). She not only illuminates the nature of these councils but highlights the modernity of Norse tradition by connecting them to Scandinavia political practice today.

Haden Eric Geoffrey addresses the manner in which Norse sagas can contribute to our understanding of the near universal process of constructing a group identity via a process familiar to World Historians called "othering." That is, the mechanism though which a group can collectively relate to one another as being different from others, usually, from the vantage point of a determined in-group verses outgroup, such as colonizer and colonized. Geoffrey mines the text of Norse sagas to show how Viking explorations of new found lands outside of the previously established Norse understanding of the boundaries of the pre-modern world (in this case, Vinland) to demonstrate this process. He then discusses how the Viking experience in Vinland can be used as a case study by world historians to enhance the discussion of "othering" in the world history classroom.

Each of these articles add to our understanding of the post-classical world, while also assisting busy teachers at all levels of instruction. For example, many instructors who pursue a narrative approach to world history mention that the Vikings attack on Britain so weakened British power as to lead to their failure to defeat the Normans at the Battle of Hastings. However, it has been recently suggested that had Britons succeeded in repelling the Normans, the traditional aspects of British as well as European politics and culture would have remained unchanged. With the British defeat, a pathway to British modernity opened, and, it is argued, that new pathway contributed mightily to the version of European modernity. The European version of modernity subsequently spread across the globe, if as much by force as by the force of its ideas, forestalling or impinging upon indigenous modernities elsewhere. Moreover, those instructors who pursue a thematic approach to the post-Classical world might, following a common thrust of the Geoffrey and Ahlness articles, consider embracing the Vikings as models of identity formation and the legacies of Norse law-making, much as they use the Code Napoléon as a model for the modern period.

Swedo argues that by by-passing the Norse, instructors are not only by-passing a subject many students in world history survey courses are attracted to and wish to study, but, in the specific case of the Vikings, are missing a valuable opportunity to help students see how and why fake news becomes history.

The individual "Article" section focuses on digital issues. The first article, by Tamara L. Schreiner, "Turning on the Historian's Macroscope: A Call to Foreground the Teaching and Learning of Data Visualizations in World History Education," opens by reminding us that since world historians often address large scale processes, they are looking at history through not a microscope, but a macroscope. She makes the case that as macroscopy often depends on large amounts of data, more emphasis should be placed on teaching data literacy and learning in the field of world history. She argues that "while the prevalence of data visualizations in world history texts may come as little surprise to anyone familiar with the field, the effective teaching and learning of data visualizations in the service of world historical understanding deserves greater attention." She notes that as data visualizations can be complex, students face a number of difficulties in analyzing, interpreting, and using them. Her article "is an attempt to illuminate both the benefits of data visualizations in teaching and learning world history, and the challenges they pose." The second article is an annotated digital data base for the study of the Vikings prepared by World History Connected's digital resources editor, John Maunu. It includes open-sourced primary sources, site visits, museum exhibitions, and other useful resources for classroom use. It also features references to thought provoking articles about the Vikings, such as the process by which white supremacist organizations employ representations of Vikings in their recruiting material.

For those unfamiliar with World History Connected (ISSN 1931-8642), it is an affiliated publication of the World History Association. It was founded in 2006 as an interdisciplinary, open sourced, double-blind peer-reviewed, e-journal publication of the University of Illinois Press, which currently reaches 1.85 million "readers" annually (scholars who read more than two articles) and attracts 6 million visits to its website. It is published 3 times a year (February, June, and October). Recent issues of the journal have explored the Atlantic in World History and Film in World History. Projected issues will include topics such as the pre-modern world (deadline March 15, 2002) Southeast Asia in World History (deadline June 3, 2020), topics in Latin American history (August 1, 2020). Future topics, such as Active learning (including gaming, simulations and  graphic histories) and the current trend toward authoritarianism in global and historical perspective, are yet to be determined). Scheduling is an art rather than a science, so those wishing to submit articles for consideration on these subjects or any subject should express that interest as soon as possible.

As the above indicates, as well as publishing reviews and individual articles, World History Connected publishes "Forums" or a special section of the journal, on a world/global history topic. These usually consist of three to five articles. Often, overtures are made by scholars who seek to serve as Guest Editors for Forums and curate related individual articles submitted or those they have solicited, all subject to the usual peer review process. Guest editors have included Presidents of the American Historical Association and the World History Association, including Patrick Manning and Laura Mitchell. The journal welcomes any who seek to author an individual article or bring together articles pursing innovative approaches to this interdisciplinary field.


FORUM: Vikings in World History

Introduction: Vikings in World History

by Elizabeth M. Swedo

“Hornless Northmen: Teaching Vikings as People in the World History Context”

by Elizabeth M. Swedo

“The Legacy of the Ting: Viking Justice, Egalitarianism, and Modern Scandinavian Regional Governance”

by Ellen A. Ahlness

"Vikings, Vínland, and the Indigenous 'Other'"

by Hayden Eric Godfrey


“Turning on the Historian's Macroscope: A Call to Foreground the Teaching and Learning of Data Visualizations in World History Education”

by Tamara L. Shreiner

“Digital Resources for Vikings in World History”

by John Maunu


“Exploring a New Age in World History: Dickinson's The Long 20th Century”

by Tom Laichas


Shelly Chan, Diaspora's Homeland: Modern China in the Age of Global Migration

by Jonathan Dresner

Lisa Pine, Debating Genocide

by Robert Klemm 

Michael Goode and John Smolenski, eds. The Specter of Peace: Rethinking the Violence and Power in the Colonial Atlantic

by Shayna Mehas

Peter Linebaugh, Red Round Globe Hot Burning: A Tale at the Crossroads of Commons and Closure, of Love and Terror, of Race and Class, and of Kate and Ned Despard

by Eva-Maria Swidler

Contact Info: 

 Marc Jason Gilbert, Editor, Hawai'i Pacific University,

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