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Scandinavian Studies PhD student wins Fulbright award

20 August 2013

Richard Cole

Richard Cole, a PhD student in Scandinavian Studies, has won a Fulbright award to spend a year at Harvard University from September 2013.
He is currently writing his PhD on depictions of Jews in medieval Scandinavia. He will be spending a year at Harvard as a Visiting Fellow in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, where he hopes to pursue his secondary interests in Yiddish, Old English and Medieval Hebrew.

Richard said of his research:

"My research began with looking at a fairly simple problem, which I felt hadn't received much attention in scholarship: Why does Old Norse literature, the body of literature composed from the twelfth to fifteenth centuries in Iceland and Norway, so often turn to the subject matter of Jews and Judaism, even though there is to date no evidence to suggest Jewish settlement anywhere in Scandinavia during this period?

Naturally, Old Norse literature was the product of a medieval Christian culture, so it's understandable that it exhibits the same obsession with Jews common to all medieval Christianity.

But if we must consider what medieval Scandinavia had in common with the rest of Europe, we also have to consider what made it different. How would it have felt for medieval Icelanders, huddled in a small churches all over the country each Sunday and hearing the latest miracle story of the supposed misdeeds of Jews from distant cities in Spain or Germany?

I particularly want to understand how the image or idea of 'the Jew' might have been perceived by ordinary people. Through understanding that very particular experience, I hope to touch on a more universal theme, such as how absent enemies are constructed by authorities, and internalised by audiences.

In an age where animosity between ethnic and religious groups is increasingly exploited for political capital, these questions remain pressing."