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Peter Sandberg

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University of Gothenburg


Runic Kitsch: Medieval Modernity, Modern Medievalism, and the History of Philology

How are we to understand the powerful allure of the prehistoric, the pre-Christian, the primordial deep past? From the point of view of modernity, Is “pre-Christian Scandinavia” a particular period in the linear march of time? Or is the prehistoric a different kind of time, one that underlies and structures the historical present? To address these questions, this research project maps a history of views of the pre-Christian past of Scandinavia, stretching from the Central Middle Ages up to the nineteenth century. It begins with concepts of magic and the past that were diffused across Latinate Europe in the wake of the “Renaissance” of the twelfth century, and the ways in which Scandinavians sought to integrate their own vernacular past into a universal view of the world and its past, examining magical runic inscriptions and antiquarian manuscript compilations. This antiquarian spirit forms the prehistory of Germanic philology, and scholars from the Early Modern period up to the nineteenth century continually look back to this view of the past, even as the Christian image of a universal past crumbles away and is replaced by a quest for the mysterious “Volksgeist”. Covering a wide range of material across an 800-year span of history, this study will trace the survival and transformation of a stance of alienated attraction toward a perceived primordial past across the changing tides of modernity.

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