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Research spotlight:

Vikings: gender, language
and diaspora


Research by Professor Judith Jesch and colleagues in the Centre for Study of the Viking Age (CSVA) is transforming public and professional understanding of Vikings and the Viking Age.


Research overview

Research by Professor Judith Jesch and members of the CSVA has turned public attention away from the ‘rape and pillage’ cliché of the Viking Age, and from a strictly archaeological understanding of the period, to an appreciation of broader Viking Age cultural and linguistic impact. Research has pioneered new understandings of Viking gender, language, and diaspora, using textual and linguistic evidence, including poetry, runic inscriptions, and place- and personal names, to overturn stereotypes and enhance public and professional understanding of the Viking phenomenon. The CSVA has longstanding partnerships with local and national heritage organisations, including Nottingham Lakeside Arts, Derby and Lincoln Museums, York Museums Trust, and the British Museum. CSVA research also underpins a well-established schools outreach programme in the Nottinghamshire area.

Research projects

 The Viking Diaspora

diasporaThis AHRC-funded project culminated in the publication of Professor Jesch's monograph on The Viking Diaspora (2015). This is the first book to explain Scandinavian expansion using the 'diaspora' model.

Read more about the book and its influence

Rather than the movements of Viking armies, the book concentrates on the movements of everyday Viking people and the shared heritage and culture that connected them. With signficant chapters on gender, beliefs and identities as forms of cultural contact, this book has opened up new research questions into the nature of the Viking influence in Britain and Ireland.

Jesch's research on Viking diaspora, gender, and language fed into the British Museum Vikings: Life and Legend (2014) exhibition and underpinned the Bringing Vikings Back to the East Midlands project in 2017-18. In particular, her work on Viking gender and diaspora enhanced museum displays and curation practices for the British Museum/York Museum Trust Viking: Rediscover the Legend (2017-18) and Nottingham Lakeside Arts Danelaw Saga (2017-18) exhibitions.

Listen to Professor Jesch speak about the Viking diaspora in a talk given as part of the Bringing Vikings Back to the East Midlands project:


Bringing Vikings Back to the East Midlands

bringing vikings backIn 2017-18, Professor Jesch and Dr Roderick Dale from the CSVA led this AHRC- and UoN RPA-funded research project promoting awareness and knowledge of Viking heritage in the East Midlands. 

Read more about the project

The project involved two exhibitions in collaboration with the British Museum, York Museums Trust, and UoN's Lakeside Arts, a series of public lectures and artefact handling sessions, a book on Viking Nottinghamshire (Gregory 2017), and culminated in the launch of a new digital museum website.


Viking: Rediscover the Legend was a touring exhibition curated by York Museums Trust and the British Museum. The Nottingham leg of the tour was hosted by the Djanogly Gallery at Nottingham Lakeside Arts (25 November 2017 - 4 March 2018). The exhibition was the Djanogly's second most popular event, attracting over 22,000 visitors. Professor Jesch supported the curators and Dr Clare Pickersgill of the University Museum to enhance and develop the local and regional dimension of the BM exhibition. Dr Dale organised a series of activity days to increase  public engagement with the exhibition, including craft and handling sessions with reproduction artefacts made by Adam Parsons of Blueaxe Reproductions.

Danelaw Saga: Bringing Vikings Back to the East Midlands was an additional exhibition, exclusive to Nottingham (15 December 2017 - 8 April 2018). Curated by Dr Dale and Professor Jesch in collaboration with Hayley Cotterill and Ursula Ackrill of UoN's Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections, the exhibition attracted over 10,000 visitors, raising public awareness of the arrival, settlement and legacy of the Vikings in the East Midlands.

Lecture series

The project included a series of public lectures to complement both exhibitions. You can listen to these lectures on the Vikings in the East Midlands website.

Digital museum

A key output of the project, the Vikings in the East Midlands website is a freely-accessible digital resource for heritage professionals, researchers, school teachers and pupils, and the wider public interested in the Viking period. It provides users with free and easy access to an illustrated inventory of Viking Age objects from the East Midlands. The website highlights local and regional place-names given by Viking immigrants. Viking personal names are also explained and reproduced in runes. The website also offers a gallery of designs based on Viking Age artefacts, providing scalable templates to inspire historically-accurate creativity.

Visit the Vikings in the East Midlands website


Vikings: Life and Legend

vikings lifeCurators of the 2014 Vikings: Life and Legend exhibition at the British Museum benefited from the textual and linguistic expertise of the CSVA, which helped to enhance exhibition content and curatorial practice.

Read more about the project

Professor Jesch's research on poetry and runic inscriptions informed the exhibition's wall displays and audio guide, and Dr Jayne Carroll contributed content on Viking place-names for the exhibition website. They also wrote popular books for the British Museum Press, including Viking Poetry of Love and War (2013) and Vikings in Britain and Ireland (2014).

Professor Jesch and Dr Carroll appeared in the exhibition film Vikings Live, discussing Viking gender and place-names. The film is available to watch on the British Museum's Youtube channel.

I [...] try to show that women warriors and/or Valkyries and/or shield maidens (they are all often mixed up) are not just 'mythological phenomena' [...], but relate to a whole complex of ideas that pervade literature, mythology and ideology, without necessarily providing any direct evidence for women warriors in 'real life'. 
Professor Judith Jesch, Norse and Viking Ramblings (2017)

Vikings and Anglo-Saxons for Schools

vikings for schoolsCSVA research is transforming understanding of Vikings at KS2 level via the popular Vikings and Anglo-Saxons for Schools scheme, which has engaged over 20 primary schools across Nottinghamshire.

Read more about the project

CSVA volunteers provide immersive learning sessions on runes, objects, burials, and place-names, which encourage children to develop a deeper, more historically accurate understanding of Viking history and culture. Further learning opportunites are available through on-campus Discovery Days and workshops at UoN's annual Wonder Festival.

Find out more about Vikings and Anglo-Saxons for Schools


Podcasts, blogs, and more

blogMembers of the CSVA regularly share their research via social media, popular podcasts, and regular blog posts. Their aim is to overturn problematic Viking stereotypes by improving public understanding of Viking Age culture.

Read more about blogs and podcasts

A key priority of CSVA research is to counteract the violent, masculinist impression that many people have of the Vikings. In 2017, Professor Jesch's Norse and Viking Ramblings blog became an important forum for the female Viking warrior debate. Jesch’s expertise and role as a key figure in this ongoing debate is widely recognised, and she has been invited to discuss the topic on multiple media outlets.

Listen to Professor Jesch discuss Viking warrior women on Fern Riddle's recent podcast, Not What You Thought You Knew (15/09/2020).

Visit Professor Jesch's blog Follow @JudithJesch on Twitter

Project funding

These projects were made possible through funding from:

 AHRC logo

UoN logo

British Identities Research Priority Area


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