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Sunday, July 1, 2018

'the Viking Warrior' - book review


the Viking Warrior - the Norse Raiders Who Terrorized Medieval Europe

Ben Hubbard
Amber Books - 2015
978-1-78274-291-3

I had picked this up at my last International Congress for Medieval Studies conference (2016). Honestly, the book seller had it for a very good price (think it was about $25 US) and I really only gave it a casual glance when I picked it up, part of a larger purchase.
With the recent publication date (yes, I had checked that), I had hopes for some current information.
But honestly - the second line of the title should have warned me.

Although richly illustrated (the back jacket states 'Includes more than 200 artworks, photographs and maps'), it is the source of those illustrations that becomes, frankly, annoying rather than reveilling. 'Artworks' dominate. Those illustrations are primarily Victorian era, with all the fantasy elements and distortions you would expect. Yes, there is often mention in the captions included of the major errors pictured. My guess is that these images have been selected not for clarity, but simply that, because their age, the images fall outside copyright provisions.
Many of the actual photographs in the volume are images of amature Re-Encactors, or their equipment. Obviously the quality of these re-creations can vary widely. (I really don't see how an image of modern plywood shields best illustrates actual Viking Age objects?) In some cases, the images chosen don't actually represent historic object types at all. There are some artifact images (maybe 1 in 10), but those will be well familar to even the casual observer of the Norse (mainly included from widely available 'open source' collections).
A clear key here is a check to the 'picture credits' as listed. These are almost internet based image collection services. Only a handful are from actual museum sources.

Of the 224 pages, the first third (90 pages) cover 'Viking Origins' and 'Viking Society'. It would be most accurate to say the topics are at best superficial. In a number of cases I found statements either vague, misleading - or just plain incorrect.
The bulk of the book is primarily a brief summary of the major conflict and political developments involving the Scandinavians from the first documented raids in the last years of the 700's through to the 1066 invasions in England.
The book does make consistent reference to both Saga documents and historic contemporary accounts. The pattern here however starts to look a lot more like an attempt to build credibility through the quoting of historic sources - instead of depth of recent research. The bibliography lists primarily popular level works, the volumes most of us have long had in our own libraries.

In total, I would suggest that 'the Viking Warrior' was a fast turn over work, created to cash in on recent pop culture interest in Vikings (largely generated by the recent TV series on the History Channel - with all its own massive flaws!)  At best this book is a superficial treatment of the topic. It might have proved suitable for a high school level introduction, save for the dominance of extremely dated, usually inaccurate Victorian illustrations.

Overall my recommendation would be to save the money, and put the amount towards purchase of perhaps 'the Viking World' by Graham-Campbell'.


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Podcasts - An Update

Almost a year ago I posted about podcasts relating to vikings and archaeology. Time for an update!

Sagathing https://sagathingpodcast.wordpress.com/

If you aren't already a fan... go there now, download an episode and put it on in the background while you finish reading this blog. Go on.

Sagathing is two medieval history profs out of the US (John and Andy). They are working their way through the family sagas. Episodes run 60 to 90 minutes. Usually 1-2 episodes per saga although they took a dozen to deal with Njal's Saga. Each saga is summarized and discussed, then judged on a number of criteria including 'best bloodshed' and 'best nickname'. The interaction between the two podcasters is quite enjoyable. While I'm sure they have a plan for a given episode I doubt there is a script. The conversation really makes this a very enjoyable podcast although I miss the ability to talk back to them. I look forward to each new episode.

Viking Age http://vikingagepodcast.com/

This podcast has undergone some shifts over the past year. This is one host and it very much comes across as a recorded, scripted lecture. It makes it easy to drift off while he is talking. The content is reasonable enough and I expect to learn some things as we move forward. The podcast begins with the settlement of Scandinavia back before 10000 BCE. The first half dozen episodes (a half hour each give or take) move through the various time periods up to an including the iron age. Once he got into the viking age he split off looking at vikings in different countries. This includes backstories like episode 23-27 where he covered the Carolingians. Around episode 32 he got a bit bored and changed things mixing in telling stories of characters like Harold finehair. The main thread over the last few months has been a look at the viking culture itself (law, chieftainships, etc). The Viking History itself hasn't shown up at all lately. Has has stayed with his single voice lecture style. I keep listening, and picking up tidbits, but I'd love to hear the same topics covered in more the style of sagathing.

Norse by Northwest http://www.norsenorthwest.com/

An interesting podcast. Again a single person speaking but the Scottish accent and delivery style on this fellow make it a more enjoyable listen than the Viking Age Podcast. Very infrequent releases (last one was in Sept) and only 7 episodes so far.

Sadly those represent all the Viking podcasts for which I listened to more than one episode. Does anyone have any other ones that they recommend?

Now on to Archaeology Podcasts

Archaeology Podcast Network https://www.archaeologypodcastnetwork.com/

APN is absolutely the right place to begin discussing archaeology podcasts. The Archaeology Podcast Network hosts 17 archaeology focused podcasts. I have become a regular listener to several of them. I'm not going to list all of them - just the ones I actually listen to. By all means though please drop by their main page and have a look at all of their offerings. The APN is the brainchild of Chris Webster and he is all through it. Most podcasts have their own hosts talking about topics that interest them, but Chris also hosts several podcasts.

Archaeotech https://www.archaeologypodcastnetwork.com/archaeotech

This podcast has a pair of hosts early on it was two Chris' but now it is Chris and Paul. Some episodes bring in guests others are just the two of them. Recent podcasts have included drones, VR, and 3D printing. Episodes run around an hour every other week and the conversation tends to be fun and interactive. A good way to keep up on changing technology in archaeology.

Arch365 https://www.archaeologypodcastnetwork.com/arch365/

A daily podcast now moving into its second year. Episodes average around 5 minutes and are just a very brief introduction to topics of interest. That can include specific sites (recently they covered L'Anse aux Meadows for example), but it can also be technologies (a sequence last year covered GPR, Resistivity, etc). A nice fast way to keep a little archaeological learning in your days.

Archaeological Fantasies https://www.archaeologypodcastnetwork.com/archyfantasies/

For those who enjoy a good debunking or discussion of the 'mysterious' in archaeology this is your podcast. Like many APN podcasts this is an hour every couple of weeks. Recent episodes included the Dighton Rock, Djinn, and Haunted Objects. Drifts between 2 and 3 hosts sometimes with guests. Definitely suffers from "remote podcast" problems. Serra is clearly on the console (good audio) but her co-hosts regularly step on her talking and guests can suffer from that and audio quality problems. The content is a great deal of fun though and each host is worth listening too. The sarcasm can get thick.

The Archaeology Show https://www.archaeologypodcastnetwork.com/archaeology/

This one is all over the place with regards to topics: field schools, Ice Age Art, Museums, you name it. Again two hosts (April and Chris) usually an hour every couple of weeks. Fun to listen to - and always something to learn.

Archaeology and Ale https://www.archaeologypodcastnetwork.com/archandale/

This is definitely an odd one. This is a recording in the upstairs of a pub of lectures given near the University of Sheffield. Audio quality isn't the best as one might expect, and obviously you can't see the slides. Topics can be all over the place as you might expect. And production is irregular at best (last episode was in August). I listen in when the topics catch my eye.

Prehistories https://www.archaeologypodcastnetwork.com/prehistories/

Kim and guests usually discuss books of (prehistoric) interest. Honestly I wasn't sure about this one but I am finding it rather enjoyable. Again as one would expect it is all over the place. The most recent episode discussed Sutcliffe's fictional "Warrior Scarlet" (1958), but two episodes earlier she and some guests were spending the evening in an iron age hill fort talking about stories they enjoy and public archaeology. Call this one a monthly one-hour podcast even if the idea of "month" isn't overly regular.

Moving off the APN there is:

Audio News from Archaeologica https://www.archaeologychannel.org/audio-guide/audio-news

Running about 10 minutes and coming out weekly this one covers 4 news stories about archaeology from the previous week. A good short "news report" - usually there are a couple of things that I enjoyed hearing about in each broadcast.

Indiana Jones: Myth, Reality, and 21st Century Archaeology https://www.voiceamerica.com/episode/97394/catastrophe-and-collapse-the-mediterranean-world-in-the-late-bronze-age

Like Viking Age this is a single speaker but all of the episodes I have heard have been him interviewing different people. He isn't the best interviewer I've heard and the interactions come off very stilted. I have been cherry-picking episodes as I find ones where the topic grabs my interest. Very focused on the US archaeology industry. This one may be dead as the last episode posted is from April.

Finally I am also listening to Medieval History for fun and Profit http://www.on-soap.com/medieval-history-for-fun-and-profit/

Dr. Alice R. and Dr. Alice T. of King's college London take turns being the "host" and "guest" as they answer questions about medieval history. Sex, Pets, Magic, Who is the best Medieval Person - they have certainly done some fun questions. Episodes come out every 2-3 weeks and run about an hour. Well worth a listen.

Alright - your turn. What archaeology or Viking Era podcasts do you listen to and what do you think of them?