9th Experimental Archaeology Conference abstract – McGuir and Gough
Vikings in Victoria: A merging of classroom, exhibition, and experiential learning
Erin McGuir (University of Victoria) & Kim Gough (Royal British Columbia Museum)
Between May and November of 2014, the Royal BC Museum hosted Vikings: Lives beyond the Legends, a travelling exhibition from the Swedish History Museum. While the Vikings never sailed to the west coast of Canada, interest in them as explorers and heroes is high enough that the exhibition has drawn visitors from across the world. At the University of Victoria, where students can take courses in Old Norse language, Sagas and literature, and Viking archaeology, this interest has been observed for a long time. Erin’s Anthropology 398: Life and Death in the Viking World is an archaeology course that requires students to delve into Viking life through experimental archaeology projects. Students have worked to produce glass beads, test navigational tools, carve game pieces and boards, etc.
Beginning in 2013, Kim and Erin came together to find ways to make formal and informal learning connections with Erin’s teaching and the exhibition. The partnership that emerged was diverse and rewarding on many levels. Students who took Anth398 before the exhibition arrived put on an experimental archaeology research fair, attended by members of the university community and the museum. Some of the projects demonstrated led to volunteer opportunities for students, who later created activities for children and/or adults, taught skills such as nålbinding (a type of Viking needlework) to docents and the general public, and organised events as part of the exhibition. A modified version of the course was offered during the summer of 2014, based at the museum and bringing together traditional university students with members of the general public for a two-week period. During this time, we engaged in a combination of traditional lectures and hands-on workshops led by re-enactors, fellow students, and museum staff.
This may seem like a lot of work for a relatively short-term project. The exhibition moves on and it may be a long time before Vikings return to Victoria. In this talk, we’d like to share our experiences and insights on what we learned. One of the greatest gains we’ve made is the awareness that each new exhibition brings new opportunities. The trick is to be open to them.