IMS in Conversation: Útrásarvíkingar! The Literature of the Icelandic Financial Crisis

Dr Alaric Hall's book on Icelandic financiers during the financial boom featured in the second online session of the Institute for Medieval Studies Book Launch.

Having received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the first book launch, on Tuesday 09 June, the second session in the IMS in Conversation series took the form of an interview with Dr Alaric Hall, current Director of the IMS, Associate Professor in the School of English, and Wikipedia content-writer extraordinaire. This time, the interview was conducted by IMS researcher, Francesca Petrizzo. With almost 50 participants signed up for this session, the popularity of the webinar series is steadily growing, attracting academics and enthusiasts from all over the globe.

Dr Hall began by explaining that the incentive to write the book was both political and economic; that Iceland serves as a great case study for the 2008 financial crisis, due to its many large banks which were too big to save. Equally, thanks to the generous funding of the Leverhulme trust, Dr Hall was able to make this ebook Open Access, making his research freely available to academics and lay readers alike.

The title of the book, Útrásarvíkingar!, literally translates to ‘raiding vikings’, referring to the Icelandic financiers during the financial boom. During this time, Iceland drew on Viking ingenuity and heritage to market itself to the rest of the world, and as a result of this, Icelandic novels often reflect the romanticism of Iceland’s Viking ‘Golden Age’. Dr Hall cited one example in particular, the Sigurðar saga fóts, which is notable for its rewriting of the 2008 financial crisis in the style of a medieval saga romance.

What is most remarkable about this publication is that Dr Hall is prominent in the field of Medieval Studies, and as such, the book was written through the lens of a medievalist background. Upon being asked by a participant about working in modern Icelandic, Dr Hall joked that it is a medievalist’s portion to get used to working with new languages, always learning on the job. 

However, the leap from Medieval England to 21st-Century Iceland turned out to be facilitated by a blast from the past. Having published his first monograph on Elves in Anglo-Saxon England, Dr Hall admitted that he was being followed by the Elves in his research, noting their presence in the majority of modern icelandic novels. As Elves have a role of embodying the ideal Icelander, they stand as a heritage discourse, in opposition to modernity, and further tying the modern-day Iceland to its Viking origins.

Towards the end of the webinar, participants were keen to ask Dr Hall about the reception of his work in Iceland. Dr Hall has had immense support from the Icelandic academic community, and has spoken previously on Icelandic radio, though his work has yet to be translated into Icelandic for distribution in the Icelandic-speaking public. In a similar vein, Dr Hall notes that Icelandic literature is very seldom translated into English, with publishers usually opting to translate Icelandic novels into other Scandinavian languages. Speaking on the future of this publication within the corpus of Icelandic literature, Dr Hall hopes it will be a benchmark for the way modern Icelandic literature is studied in relation to its history of Viking colonisation, noting that as an academic community, ‘We are all assimilating postcolonial research into our thought.’

The book can be found for free on the publisher’s website, though a donation to further academic research and future Open Access publications is always welcome.