Research Group for Medieval Philology
The Research Group presents

Communication and Community in Medieval Norway: Network Analytical Approaches to Medieval Norwegian Sources

Ben Allport presents his post-doc project on communal structures in medieval Norway.

Communication and Community
Ben Allport

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The last three decades have seen a significant shift in the way in which the social structures of medieval Europe are interpreted. Traditional social models based on top-down relationships such as vassalage have increasingly been called into question beyond certain socially or geographically localised contexts. In their place, other structures have been proposed which, among other things, stress the importance of community and collective structures. The medieval period in Europe witnessed the emergence of ever larger polities, the kingdoms which in many cases have defined political boundaries in the centuries since. My PhD research sought to reveal and understand the ‘regional’ communities which existed in Norway during the Viking Age, exploring the role that they played in the process by which the medieval kingdom of Norway began slowly to emerge.

My present project at UiB arises from similar interests but takes a different approach. I turn now to an analysis of the communal structures of medieval (specifically twelfth- and thirteenth-century) Norway as they are depicted in contemporary literary and documentary sources (primarily the corpus of konungasögur). To do so, I apply a methodology borrowed from sociological studies: Social Network Analysis (SNA). This database-driven approach allows social groups to be analysed and visualised as a whole, using algorithms to establish the most ‘central’, or influential, members of a given community. In the context of medieval Norway, whether the most influential actors were royal officials or members of the traditional aristocracy (or neither).

In this talk, I will present an overview of my project, ‘Communication and Community in Medieval Norway’: the historiographical context; the PhD research from which it arose and which will continue to play a key role in the eventual output of the project; and an outline of the methodology itself. As this project is still in its earliest stages, there are few concrete results to present. As a result, I will conclude with a consideration of some of the methodological issues that I have encountered thus far.