The Vikings and Victorian Lakeland: the Norse Medievalism of W G Collingwood and his contemporaries

Project: Research project (funded)Research

Project Details

Key findings

In the nineteenth century the writers, artists and antiquarians of the Lake District began enthusiastically to study the literature and culture of the Vikings, and to trace many of the region’s distinctive features back to the Norse settlements. This enthusiasm for Lakeland’s Viking origins expressed itself in scholarship and fiction, in painting and sculpture, in saga-translations and travels to Iceland, and in many other forms; and this regional movement formed part of a wider national (and indeed international) interest in the Vikings and their literature, an interest fuelled variously by philology, politics, and historicism. The leading figure in the study of the Vikings in Lakeland was William Gershom Collingwood (1854-1932), and in terms of both scholarly and popular awareness the ‘Norse medievalism’ of Collingwood and his contemporaries still shapes the ways in which we view both the impact of the Vikings in England and the Lake District’s particular history and cultural inheritance.

My research, and the resulting monograph, offers the first-ever detailed examination of the study of the Vikings and their culture in the Lake District, in the period c. 1850-1930. It does this by concentrating – by no means exclusively, however – on the life and work of W.G. Collingwood, and it is the first book to be written about this important and influential figure. I address questions such as the following:
*In what ways were the impact and inheritance of the Vikings in the Lake District interpreted and imagined in the period 1850-1930? Through what media and structures did scholars, writers and artists discuss and debate the matter of the Vikings in Lakeland?
*What do these activities reveal about the intellectual and cultural history of the region in this period? How did a narrative of Viking origins feed into a sense of local identity?
*In broader terms, what can we learn through a distinctively regional and interdisciplinary focus about the wider phenomenon of Victorian medievalism? What does such a focus reveal about the historiography of the Vikings in England?
Effective start/end date1/10/0831/12/08


  • AHRC: £20,380.00