Karl Hauck 1916-2007

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An old sorcerer has passed away. Karl Hauck was the single most influential contributor to the iconology, the interpretation of mythological imagery, of 1st Millennium AD Northern Europe. Hauck’s interpretations built upon solid knowledge of later written sources, most importantly the Icelandic literature of the High Middle Ages. They were sometimes fanciful, always creative, and quite impossible to ignore for anyone working in that field.

Writes Hagen Keller (and I translate):

“On 8 May Karl Hauck died, aged 90. He was the founder of the Institute for Early Medieval Studies and former professor of Medieval history at the University of Münster. […]

Born in Leipzig on 21 December in 1916, Hauck began his studies at the university of that city. After being severely wounded in the war, he could continue his studies in Strasbourg, where he received a PhD in 1942 and a Dr habil. in 1943. […] Hauck remained active for many years after his 1982 retirement as a scholar and research organiser among the Medieval scholars of Münster, and took part in the discussion within his field until the end of his life.

Having published works on Medieval historiography and historical fiction, on symbols of lordship and on royal palaces, Hauck concentrated entirely on the Early Middle Ages (c. AD 500-800). He studied contact zones between the Mediterranean and ancient German cultures, between pagan and Christian religion. The centre of his interests was the coasts of the Baltic and North Seas and Scandinavia in the 5th and 6th centuries. Working together with scholars from several neighbouring disciplines, Hauck opened entirely new avenues to this bygone world through a systematic catalogue and painstaking interpretation of over 900 gold bracteates and the elucidation of their religious, lordly and societal background.”

Among the tropes Hauck read into the bracteate iconography was that of Odin as an ecstatic shaman with the ability to travel among the worlds. Our mutual friend Jan Peder Lamm once commented that the greatest shaman and visionary was in fact Hauck himself.

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Keith Windschuttle on Post-Modernism

A week ago, Australian historian Keith Windschuttle gave a talk in Sydney under the heading “Postmodernism and the Fabrication of Aboriginal History”. The full text is on-line, highly recommended.

“The argument that all history is politicised, that it is impossible for the historian to shed his political interests and prejudices, has become the most corrupting influence of all. It has turned the traditional role of the historian, to stand outside his contemporary society in order to seek the truth about the past, on its head. It has allowed historians to write from an overtly partisan position. It has led them to make things up and to justify this to themselves on the grounds that it is all for a good cause. No cause is ever served by falsehood because eventually someone will come along and expose you. Truth always comes out in the end, and when it does it discredits those causes that were built on lies.

[…] The role of the historian is to stand above politics, difficult though this always will be. Historians should assume a public responsibility to report their evidence fully and accurately, to footnote their sources honestly, and to adopt as objective a stand as possible. To pretend that acceptable interpretations can be drawn from false or non-existent evidence, whose only justification is that it is all in a good cause, is to abandon the pursuit of historical truth altogether.”

An Australian correspondent of mine generously sent me Windschuttle’s 2002 book about the fate of the Tasmanian aborigines in the early 19th century, and it’s excellent stuff. Level-headed, clearly written, unromantic, painstaking with its sources, humanistic in its values and absolutely devastating to prevailing views. European archaeology needs a Windschuttle of its own.

Update 8 June: A number of commenters really don’t like Windschuttle’s politics. To keep the discussion on track, let me just state briefly that I neither know nor care much about current Australian politics, but I have a strong professional interest in historical methodology and theory. Windschuttle’s political opinions appear to be quite far to the right of my own, but when it comes to ideas about good historical scholarship, we’re on the same page.

To provoke a different set of angry comments I’ll spell out something the attentive reader may already have gathered from a recent entry here. I’m a cultural relativist and a constructivist in my view of culture. This means that very few pieces of cultural tradition are sacred to me, and that I see all ideas of deep continuous cultural heritage as fictions of the present. This applies both to Western majority culture and to Third World minority cultures. The only way for a culture to earn my respect is for it to conform to the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights.

Strawberry Parking Lot

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Dear Reader — let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to the Strawberry Parking Lot.

For the past century and a half, the naming of Swedish places has largely been taken out of the people’s hands and regulated by the authorities. New names of big important places are no longer negotiated organically among those who talk about them. Instead, county and municipal planners tell people what to call a certain place. Thus a number of new names in my home area: Saltsjöbaden, Solsidan, Jarlaberg. Fine names handed down from on high, meaning “Salt Sea Bathing Resort”, “Sunny Side” and “Earl’s Mountain”, names which have superseded quite different older names.

A few years ago, a conservative politician wanted to rename my housing project, Fisksätra, to Saltsjövik, “Salt Sea Inlet”, on the grounds that the current name allegedly had unpleasant connotations. My neighbour, the human geographer Mats Widgren, replied drily in the local paper that a) “Fisksätra” only has unpleasant connotations among people who don’t actually live there, such as conservative politicians with big houses, b) this unique name has worked fine at least since the 1590s.

But the Swedish language hasn’t been entirely stripped of its organic naming powers. Small places are still named the old way as and when need arises. Every day on my way to work I pass a good example: Jordgubbsparkeringen, “the Strawberry Parking Lot”.

Everyone in my area knows where it is, but you won’t find it on any map. It’s one of the two parking lots of Igelboda school, where I was a pupil in the early 80s and my kids are now. One parking lot is near the daycare centre and within sight of the school, and is called Dagisparkeringen or Skolparkeringen, “Daycare/School Parking Lot”. The other one is farther from the school and on the other side of the railroad, right beside the main road to Saltsjöbaden. For about 20 years, someone has been selling strawberries under an awning there in the summer. For several months a year, every time you pass the place you’re reminded of strawberries. And so it’s the Strawberry Parking Lot all year round. A beautiful name, and useful too as it denotes unambiguously a place everyone knows and passes frequently.

But you know, I know when it’s a dream.

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Pretty Critters

Two fine crittergraphs from Felicia Gilljam, a prominent Swedish Secular Humanist. Both snapped in recent years in Grödinge parish near Stockholm.

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Top, a slow worm (Anguis fragilis, Sw. kopparödla). Below, a Southern Hawker dragonfly (Aeshna cyanea, Sw. blågrön mosaikslända).

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Won the Lottery

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Eight years ago to the day I was invited to a party one Sunday afternoon. I didn’t know the hostess very well: we’d only met twice, at a Mercury Rev concert and a library, and we’d exchanged e-mail addresses. At the time, I was eight months into a surreal period of my life when I was happily learning to be a dad half of the time and energetically dispersing overdue wild oats the other half. That Sunday, I showered and bought some flowers and went.

The party was a buffet in a little courtyard in Stockholm’s Old Town, and the guests were many and colourful: largely young bright exchange students. There was this one really pretty Chinese girl, a journalist, with a big friendly smile and extremely crisp Swedish enunciation. She and I were the last to leave. Our hostess later told me that another guest had asked her, “You know, that guy who talked so much, and the Chinese girl — did they get it on?”

They did! We’ve been together since that day, and I just keep getting more and more crazy about that girl. Living with YuSie has taught me so much that I didn’t know, about China and the media and the fact that I’m a family man at heart. I got a lottery ticket that Sunday, and I won big time.

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David Nessle

i-514634ebc24ee99f465af16c1baa7e1a-24s40-teck-646.jpgDavid Nessle is a Swedish comic artist, author, editor, translator, sf fan and blogger. His blog is without any serious competition the wittiest one I’ve encountered in the Swedish language, and I read it religiously. Recent themes of his blogging have been a Saami version of “Ghost Riders in the Sky”, an ongoing tiff among Swedish poets, amateurish 60s comics, small-town Swedish food packaging, what to do with all one’s books, his collection of plastic action figures and classic dinosaur artist Zdenek Burian. Go read!

Swedish Archaeologist Gets New Aberdeen Chair

A recurring theme in my blogging is my frustration at completing a PhD at 31 and finding myself completely supernumerary. A few unwise policy decisions of the government’s has allowed a generation of middle-class Swedes like myself to specialise in academic subjects for which there is no market whatsoever. Two cases indicative of what the academic labour market for archaeologists is like in Sweden reached my ears yesterday.

In competition with several doctoral students and recent PhDs, a highly qualified colleague who completed his PhD in 1998 has just landed a one-day-a-week job as a students’ counselor. So you can see that there is every reason to flee Sweden if (as is very rare) your archaeological skills are such that they are useful outside the country’s borders. Here’s a happy story for once — happy in many ways.

i-c3ebbf9f1a1fab1fde7f75b6345b5e3c-neil_price.jpgMy old Arkeologikonsult colleague Neil Price, an Englishman born in 1965, received a PhD at Uppsala in 2002 for his highly acclaimed thesis The Viking way. Religion and war in Late Iron Age Scandinavia. As the title shows, Neil’s into Viking Period warfare and religion, but he’s also published a lot of work on shamanism and Saami archaeology. His approach is interdisciplinary, with much attention paid to written sources.

Now, Neil has gotten a job in Scotland. And it ain’t just any job. He’s been hired by the University of Aberdeen to build a new archaeology department from scratch! He’s getting a brand-spanking new chaired professorship with loads of money attached to it! This is great in so many ways: good for Neil, good for the Scots, good for Scottish-Scandy scholarly exchange, and very good for me. “For Rundkvist?”, you may ask. Yes, indeed. Because the next time I apply for an academic job here in Sweden, I can be pretty sure that whoever else applies, I won’t have to compete with Neil anymore.

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Twilight of Post-Modernism

Swedish social sciences zine Axess just published a thematic issue about the twilight of post-modernism and the lingering pockets of anything-goes relativism that it’s leaving behind. Essays by Johan Lundberg, Ophelia Benson & Jeremy Stangroom, Richard Wolin and Christofer Edling. Currently only in Swedish, but English translations will be on-line shortly.

On the Swedish scale, Axess is a moderate conservative mag. On the US scale, it’s somewhere just left of Bill Clinton.