Impact of Diasporas on the Making of Britain

Home and away in early England

Academic advisors: Dr Richard Jones and Professor Jo Story
Research Associate: Dr Morn Capper

Diasporas create environments within which people are not only forced to create new homes but to think deeply about the homes they have abandoned. This was no different, and indeed it may have been more acutely experienced, in the Anglo-Saxon and Viking Age where the idea of home – left behind and re-found far away – courses through the written sources, emerging from the received histories of migration and settlement. Exile from that home is a parallel theme that features in early medieval legal sources, literary texts, and narrative histories, and is embedded in the landscape through the punishment clauses of charters and in the location of execution cemeteries and meeting places that defined the boundaries of Anglo-Saxon communities. How Anglo-Saxons or Vikings made themselves at home in new lands, how old homes were recreated, remembered, or reinvented, and for how long notions of possessing two homes survived, are key issues if we are to understand early medieval society in the British Isles.

Research Associate: Dr Pragya Vohra

While the British Isles are well-represented in Norse sources, England appears to be absent from Norse diasporic memory. Diverse evidence suggests substantial Scandinavian settlement in England, but social ties central to the diaspora are almost invisible. Cultural products and vessels of social memory (sagas, skaldic poetry) about England are deemed to be ‘lost’.

This strand of the project explains these ‘lost’ diasporic links with England in contrast to the clearer relations with the rest of the British Isles. To address the ‘England conundrum’, researchers tested the hypothesis which centres on the role of the Anglo-Scandinavian elite as the primary commissioners and consumers of artefacts of social memory at two critical historical points - the reign of King Knútr (Canute), who consciously fashioned himself as an English monarch, and the conquest of William of Normandy, which resulted in a changed elite in England. The project looked at the impact of changes in elite identity on cultural memory which caused England to become ‘lost’ in Viking diasporic memory.

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