The Øresund bridge

Not clickbait, but the big question that I took away from the Nordic Research Network conference in London last Friday!

Returning to the UK is always a bit of a double-edged experience these days. The effect is magnified when one is on a flying visit like that: one realizes how easy it is to slip back into old ways, places, habits, and yet knows that one cannot return to things as they were. Immediacy and distance at one and the same time… All very appropriate given that the theme of the conference was ‘bridges between’.

The mind thus focused, there were lots of things I learnt. Some had to do with what one might call ‘principles’. How great it was that undergraduates were included – not just passively, but with sessions of their own to introduce extended essay projects and the like. How important it is, at this of all times, that we don’t fall into sweeping generalizations about particular nationalities and their supposed views.

Beyond that, though, it was really the reflection on the notion of identities that got my attention. Presentations demonstrated the range of ‘loci’ where identity between cultures can be expressed: language (a Norwegian novel), the physical body (performance art), the natural world (imagined Swedish pines), and the built environment (that bridge in that crime series). Stepping back from that, there follows the fact that what ‘outsiders’ might refer to collectively as ‘Scandinavia’ is actually bound together by perceived differences in identity as well as commonalities.

The frame is admittedly slightly different for me as a medievalist, but I’m now that bit more aware of how provisional the terms I use are. One needs to start somewhere, and I still find ‘northern Germany and Scandinavia’ a reasonable way of describing the literary and cultural space on which I work – but I will now be that bit more careful not to assume uniformity or stability under either of the two terms.

Image credit: Photograph By Lambdalix (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons