students around a Viking style funeral pyre

Vikings at St. Lawrence

Alexandra Hill ’23

Building a Viking funeral pyre and setting it ablaze is not typically what you think of when envisioning a university course, unless you are imagining Visiting Assistant Professor of European History Carolyn Twomey’s course, History of the Viking. Twomey’s class had the opportunity to explore the early medieval Viking Age (800-1100 AD) through primary source texts such as sagas, laws, and saints’ lives, as well as material artifacts such as metalwork, beads, beard combs, burials, and runic inscriptions. The class also performed a historically accurate funeral for a Viking based on research of the key historical elements of this important medieval social and religious ritual.

“The funeral assignment is unique, as it was originally one I developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to get the class together safely outdoors and to provide a much-needed sense of community collaboration and a common goal to work toward during a difficult and often distant semester,” says Twomey. Since being introduced during the summer semester, Twomey has turned the student research and planning of the funeral into a staple activity of the course.

“Immersive experiences allow for greater engagement with historical sources and permit a deeper, more intimate understanding of the lives of women and men in the past than a simple lecture,” says Twomey. “When students engage with historical actors as equals and see themselves in the shoes of someone who lived 500 years ago, they learn that people from the past may be strangers but not strange.” 

Above: Students perform a Viking funeral ritual led by Visiting Assistant Professor of European History Carolyn Twomey.