From Iceland to the Americas, an anthology of thirteen original critical essays, is an exercise in the reception of a small historical fact with wide-ranging social, cultural, and imaginative consequences. Medieval records claim that around the year 1000 Leif Eiriksson and other Nordic explorers sailed westwards from Iceland and Greenland to a place they called Vinland. Archaeological evidence has in fact verified this claim, though primarily by way of one small, short-lived Norse settlement in Newfoundland, which may not even have been Leif’s. Whether or not this settlement was his, however, the contact associated with him has had an outsized impact on cultural imagination in and of the Americas. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, indeed, novels, poetry, history, politics, arts and crafts, comics, films and video games have all reflected a rising interest in the medieval Norse and their North American presence. Uniquely in reception studies, From Iceland to the Americas approaches this dynamic between Nordic history and its reception by bringing together international authorities on mythology, language, film, and cultural studies, as well as on the literature that has dominated critical reception. Collectively, the essays not only explore the connections among medieval Iceland and the modern Americas, but also probe why medieval contact has become a modern cultural touchstone.
Leif Eiriksson, the 1893 World’s Fair, and the Great Lakes landnám
Amy C. Mulligan
of the Fair , the contemporary Fair Guide (and source for all those who wanted to experience the Fair’s wonders off-site). The Book of the Fair described the Stavkirke as ‘a cross-gabled edifice, with peaks ornamented, as in the days of LeifErikson, with the prows of Viking ships’. 34 Another guide explains further that this similarity was of course intentional, for its creators, the Norse, were ‘the boldest navigators in the world. Their high-penned galleys, with hideous figureheads, ventured where no others dared to go. Those were the days of the Vikings. So
demanded not simply the establishment of a national LeifErikson Day but a Washington exhibit that recognised the real history of the Americas: ‘The ancient Republic of Iceland and our modern one would thus be placed side by side, the republic of the year 1000 and that of the year 1889, the United States honouring Iceland for the discovery of this land!’ 51 They even sent a plea to the United States Congress requesting money to go to Rome in order to look for suppressed archival evidence of the Norse North American presence:
The Church having full knowledge of
-Semitic material on social media, along with the rallying cry: ‘Hail Vinland! Hail Victory’. 1
Using ‘Vinland’ to signify a whites-only United States is not a new idea. Celebrating Leif Eiriksson’s discovery of the New World and the short-lived Norse colony in Arctic Canada as major historical achievements is not a domain reserved for Scandinavian-Americans celebrating LeifErikson Day, either – Vinland has become a term frequently evoked by white nationalists in the United States. There is even a ‘Vinland Flag’, designed by Peter Steele, frontman of the gothic metal band Type
of the Vinland story is used for marketing and branding purposes in the New World, it becomes painfully clear that most Icelanders appear utterly oblivious to the political, ethnic, and ideological sensitivities surrounding the concept of ‘Vinland’ in America. 53 When an Icelandic beer producer decided to conquer the American market in the late 1960s, American marketing advisors advised against the name ‘LeifErikson Beer’ because Americans of Spanish and Italian descent would never buy it. Instead, they settled for the more neutral and non-offensive name ‘Polar
) the main ideologist and instigator of LeifErikson Day. Like so many immigrants, Scandinavian and non-Scandinavian alike, he was convinced that Viking explorers discovered America long before the Catholic Columbus, and he helped popularise the idea utilising all means possible, including lecturing, teaching, debating in the media, raising funds for statues of Leif, publishing ancient texts, and writing books on the subject. These were the ‘missions of education’ that tended to swell in the prelude to cultural celebrations. In 1874, for example, only two years after
, 1898), pp. 445–7; and ‘ History of Gerry’s Landing: LeifErikson is supposed to have settled there 900 years ago ’, Cambridge Tribune (19 May 1917), p. 5. Horsford was tireless in his efforts to prove a continued Viking presence in and around Cambridge, and he published volume after volume to bolster his case. See, for example, Eben Norbert Horsford, The Discovery of the Ancient City of Norumbega (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1890) and Eben Norbert Horsford, Leif’s House in Vinland (Boston: Damrell and Upham, 1893).
31 David S. Brody, Cabal of the
movement of (free) people from east to west and west to east across the Atlantic is framed using much of the same Vinland-saga-referenced and romantic rhetoric illustrated above. Kneeland, for example, notes that Icelanders building a new settlement in the Red River Valley ‘will probably call their settlement “Leifsland,” in honour of LeifErikson, who came to America in the year 1000’. 52 The paradigmatic symmetry here – and the ideology underpinning or embedded in it – was, presumably, too attractive to resist.
Travel narratives about Iceland produced by visitors
album, tacky yellowed glue defining shallow horizontal ridges. Some images are reproduced
at full-bleed, and this loosely tracks with a handful of photographs that
were printed at a larger size by the album’s original owner.11 Zieher also
reproduces three intertitle pages, preserving some of structure governing
the album. In this way the book gives a partial sense of the photographs’
initial context. These intertitle pages bear the names of annual events,
runs put on by various MCs; Marathon (put on by the Spartan MC),
Bass River (put on by the Cycle MC), and Leif