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09.00  Dressing Vikings: Production of a Gendered Heritage

9:00, Sunday 5 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)
UQAM, pavillon J.-A. De Sève (DS) - DS-M240 - SALLE ANNULÉE

In this paper, I will examine how heritage management creates historical gender and the way they “dress up” the past. By critically investigating contemporary and historical visual representations of people from the Viking Age, I will show how contemporary displays of historical gender through clothes and attributes harmonize with modern gender systems, just as much as historical. Considering heritage a process and a contemporary product, I will discuss the meaning of gender in today’s heritage-making. This paper is a critical investigation of the topic heritage and gender, and the conclusion is that heritage changes historical gender. 

My empirical point of departure is the Vikings, their clothes and attributes. The Vikings are an essential part of Scandinavian history and national identities of the Scandinavian countries. Their history is inseparable from the development of ideas about the Scandinavian nations, culture and people. The subject of the Vikings is currently enjoying considerable national and international interest, both in popular culture and within the more official heritage industry, and is therefore an essential and vibrant part of Scandinavian heritage. Scandinavians are constantly reminded of their Viking identity. While we may not require in-depth studies to demonstrate that Viking history is primarily “his story,” or that Viking heritage with its weapons and helmets to large degree is a gendered heritage, there is still much we can learn from a closer look at the subject of gender representation in Viking heritage. How is the heritage sector constructing and communicating gender for the Vikings, and how does the gendering within Viking heritage differ from the Vikings’ own gender representations? 

The contemporary Viking representations are extremely uniform, speaking of gender and clothes and attributes, and are therefore also easy for the viewers to identify as Vikings. Drawing on semiotics and critical hermeneutics, I aim to explore the topic by analyzing heritage as cultural representations consisting of outfits and attributes. In relation to heritage, I will draw on examples from a selection of public and semi-public projects dealing with Viking history, including tourist sites, museums, monuments and schoolbooks. When discussing Viking history itself, I will use iconographical representations of men and women found in various archaeological contexts. I will compare the two different discourses and reveal that the Vikings themselves had fewer gender distinctions than they have within contemporary heritage displays. In Viking art, the difference between men and women is small, whereas in modern representations they are large. Along the lines of the theories of Benedict Anderson on imagined communities, my hypothesis is that the heritage discourse creates images of the Vikings and their gender through selecting symbols that is in alignment with contemporary gender patterns, with the (unconscious?) aim to make the past recognizable and to create a cultural similarity between them and us. By carrying out these critical studies on Viking heritage, it is obvious that it is still reflective of the gender ideology of the nineteenth century, the time when the Vikings as such were invented. The study will show how heritage negotiates historical gender systems against contemporary gender systems and thereby contribute to conserve these systems.

University College of Southeast Norway
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