Research

My first degree is in Comparative Literature from the University of Iceland, with a minor in Folklore Studies (2006). My dissertation explored representations of subcultures and family structures within two horror films, Lost Boys (1987) and Near Dark (1987). My master’s degree is also in Comparative Literature, with a focus on aesthetics, poetry and literary heritage from across the globe. During the first year of my study, I was an Erasmus student at the University College London, taking courses focusing on Nordic culture, heritage and history as well as British Comparative Literature. My master’s dissertation explored the life, works and image of Lord Rochester (1647-1680). My theoretical framework focused on the carnivalesque, grotesque beauty of Rochester’s literary works. It included the works from theorists such as Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975) and Edmund Burke (1729-1797).

Throughout my studies I have been interested in cultural and literary stereotypes and subcultures as well as popular culture which transcend social, geographical and cultural boundaries. Indeed, my undergraduate study was the first step into my academic understanding and interest of the Viking myth, national identities and the development of social perceptions. I continued my pursuit of this topic in my doctoral research which explored the Viking myth within two museums in Iceland and England.

I was on the board of editors of and contributor to Safnablaðið Kvistur (2014-2016), the Icelandic museums magazine. In 2015, I co-edited (with Sólrún Traustadóttir, archaeologist) a special issue of Ólafía, the Icelandic archaeological society’s official journal, titled: ‘Tími, rými og sýnileiki’. I am the leading editor of the special edition of Museum and Society, “Elee Kirk: Snapshots of a Life in Museums”, published in November 2018. My fellow editors are: Dr Julia Petrov (curator of Western Canadian History, Royal Alberta Museum and Adjunct Academic Staff, University of Alberta) and Dr Helen Saunderson (Teaching Fellow in Psychology, University of Aberdeen). I am on the editorial board of Nordisk Museologi, an online, open-access journal, focusing on museum and heritage subjects in Nordic countries.

Along with Dr Julia Petrov, I co-edited a volume, Fashioning Horror: Dressing to Kill on Screen and in Literature (Bloomsbury in 2018). Which “examines how terror is fashioned visually, symbolically, and materially through fashion and costume, in literature, film, and real life.”

I further published a paper, ‘We Come from the Land of the Ice and Snow: Icelandic heritage and its usage in present day society’, in A Museum Studies Approach to Heritage (Routledge, 2018). This chapter explores and contrasts the image of Iceland within tourism marketing and with how Icelanders themselves understand and use their culture and heritage, particularly those relating to Vikings. It also explores the changes brought on by the economic crash of 2008—2011 in relation to local understanding of the past and its commercial uses. These changes demonstrate the flexibility and volatility of heritage in society. The chapter discusses some of the ways in which the increased tourism has influenced Icelandic society and its self-marketing strategies. An important part of Icelandic heritage centres on the notion of purity and preservation. It explains the varieties and complexities of Icelandic heritage, centring on two main topics: city and nature. These two terms will guide the reader through two ways in which Icelandic heritage is used in present-day Iceland: as a marketing tool for tourism, governmental decision-making and given social norms.

Beautiful view at the Lofotr Viking Museum

My current main research project, for which I received a two year post-doctoral grant from the University of Iceland (completed February 2017), focuses on furthering the research on which my PhD thesis was based. Broadly speaking, I am interested in cultural stereotypes, in particular the Vikings. Despite growing academic knowledge about the limitations of this stereotype of Vikings, it is nevertheless strongly rooted within popular culture. The aim of my research is to analyse museum representations of the Vikings. Its findings demonstrate the role of collective memory in the meaning creation process within museums and the use of the Viking stereotype as a trope in order to construct collective, national and individual identities. Furthermore, by exploring individual and institutional responses to history, the research advances understanding of the impact within modern society of the Viking image and its representation within museums. It also shows how history, in particular, history beyond living memory, is used in order to make sense of present social issues. This research is currently being developed for publication with Routledge, focusing on Viking related exhibitions in Norway, Britain and Iceland.

Audiences at the Saga Museum. Image from Sagatrail.is

I am also working on a chapter, “Macabre stories and Silicone stares: Learning through uncanny enocounters at the Saga Museum”, which will be published in a forthcoming edited volume, published by Routledge in the fall of 2022. The paper proposes to examine darkness as an effective technique used to guide or influence museum visitors. Particularly, it focuses on the Saga museum’s performative exhibition methodology.

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