Anthropology 472/672

3 credits, prerequisite for 472: Anth 100x

Mon, Wed 4:30-6:00, Gruening 406


David Koester

Teaching Assistant:

Stacey Fritz

Eielson 312b, 474-7133

Office hours:


Office Hours:  Th. 2-4 and by appointment


Course Description:

The primary aim of this course to provide an introduction to the ancient literature of Iceland in order to gain a view of social life in the early history of the North Atlantic.  The course also utilizes secondary sources, archaeological works and writings about contemporary social life and other regions of the North Atlantic. 


Class will include both lecture and discussion.   To facilitate discussion the readings are to be completed by the assignment date listed. 


Jan. 26:            Introduction


Part A.  Ancient Norse Mythology and Poetry

Required reading:

Jan 28:             Terry, Poems of the Elder Edda, pp. 1-10, 72-84, 241-243

Feb 2-4:           Snorri Sturluson, "The Deluding of Gylfi" (Gylfaginning) in the Prose Edda, pp. 29-93

                        Elder Edda, pp. 35-45

Feb. 9-11:        Elder Edda, pp., 58-65, 115-188

Feb. 16-18:      Byock, The Saga of the Volsungs


Recommended reading:

Elder Edda, pp. 207-240

Jochens, J. Old Norse Images of Women

Hastrup, "Cosmology and Society in Medieval Iceland"

Meletinskij, E. 1973 "Scandinavian Mythology as a System,"  Journal of Symbolic Anthropology. 1(1):43-57, 1(2):57-78.



Part B.  Culture and Society in Medieval Iceland

Required reading:

Feb. 23-25:      Egil's Saga, The Sagas of the Icelanders, pp. 1-50

Vésteinsson, "The Archaeology of Landnam" in Vikings, pp. 164-174

McGovern, Vesteinsson, Friðiksson, et al. "Landscapes of Settlement in Northern Iceland: Historical Ecology of Human Impact and Climate Fluctuation on the Millennial Scale"


Recommended: Dugmore, Church,… McGovern, et al., “The Norse landnám on the North Atlantic islands: an environmental impact assessment"


March 2:         Elder Edda, pp. 11-34

Egil's Saga, The Sagas of the Icelanders, pp. 51-94

Receive Mid-Term, take home exam


March 4:         Mid-Term exam due – no reading assignment; film: Hrafninn flýgur


March 16-18:  Egil's Saga, The Sagas of the Icelanders, pp. 95-184 

Hastrup, K. - "Defining a society: The Icelandic free state between two worlds"; "Classification and demography in medieval Iceland"

Abstract and bibliography for final paper due


March 23-25:  Hrafnkel's saga, The Sagas of the Icelanders, pp. 436-462

Eirik the Red's saga, The Sagas of the Icelanders, pp. 653-674


Mar 30-Apr 1: Njáls saga


Apr 6-8:           Njáls saga


Recommended reading:

Byock, J. Feud in the Icelandic Saga, Medieval Iceland: Society, Sagas and Power

Hastrup, K. Culture and History in Medieval Iceland

Miller, W. I. Bloodtaking and Peacemaking



Part C. Enduring Reputation Endures:  Culture and Society in Early Modern and Contemporary Iceland

Required reading:

April 13-15:     Arngrímur Jónsson, Briefe Commentarie, pp. 160-177

Gories Peerse, van Yslandt,

Koester, "The Social and Temporal Dimensions of Icelandic Obituarial Discourse"


Recommended reading:

Koester, "Gender Ideology and Nationalism in the Culture and Politics of Iceland"


Part D.  Greenland – Tales and Contemporary Issues

Required reading:

April 20-22:     Rasmussen, Knud Eskimo Folk-Tales, pp. 16-19, 38-43, 46-48, 52-55, 66-67, 77-78

Nielsen, "Government, Culture and Sustainability in Greenland: A Microstate with a Hinterland" Public Organization Review


Part E.  The Faroes

Required reading:

April 27-29:     Wylie, The Faroe Islands, pp. 7-19

Wylie and Margolin, The Ring of Dancers, pp. 95-132


Recommended reading:

Wylie, J.   The Faroe Islands


May 4:            Music of the North Atlantic – no reading assignment





Class participation in discussions related to the course readings and completing of assignments related to discussion (15%)

Mid-Term, take-home exam: essay questions based on readings (30%)

Brief Presentation, in class, analyzing or comparing course readings or describing final paper (5%)

Final Paper - a list of suggested, possible topics will be distributed.  The paper should involve anthropological analyses of, or social historical research on myths, folklore or peoples of the North Atlantic (50%)

Final papers will be graded positively for significant breadth of well synthesized historical research, for bringing together anthropological perspectives for analysis of primary sources, or for clear focus on a specific research question and thorough explication of it with the use of primary sources.  



Class participation in discussions related to the course readings and completing of assignments related to discussion 10%

Brief Presentation(s), in class, analyzing or comparing course readings or describing final paper 20%

Final paper of approximately 20 pages (double spaced) 70% 

Reading beyond the required readings of the syllabus (including, of course, some of the recommended readings)

Final papers will be evaluated for synthesis of research and clarity of argument.


FINAL PAPER DUE Wednesday, MAY 6, 4:00pm.  NO LATE PAPERS.



Images, links and other information for the course will be posted on Blackboard.  If you have questions about using Blackboard please see the instructor or Stacey Fritz, the teaching assistant. 


Course Policies:

Regular attendance is expected and attendance is included as part of the grade for class participation.  No eating during class.  Laptops may be used for notetaking but no web surfing or email is allowed during class.  Usual standards for plagiarism and fairness apply; i.e., the work you turn in should be your own work.  Give full references to the work of others when appropriate.  See the final paper instructions, to be handed out, for reference formats.


Students with Disabilities:

The University of Alaska Fairbanks is committed to equal opportunity for students experiencing disabilities.  Students with disabilities are encouraged to contact the instructor early in the course so that arrangements may be made to ensure a positive and productive educational experience.