Dr Elizabeth Ashman Rowe

Subject: Scandinavian History

Department/institution: Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic

Contact details: ea315@cam.ac.uk


Research interests:

Dr Elizabeth Ashman Rowe's area of research is the history and culture of Scandinavia in the Viking Age and the Middle Ages, roughly from 750 AD to 1500 AD. Most of her work arises from a simple starting point, namely that in an era before printing, there was no such thing as an inexpensive book. She is curious about the decisions made by individuals at specific times and places to have manuscripts made containing specific texts. Why these texts at those times? In the case of one very large, beautifully illuminated manuscript from late fourteenth-century Iceland, it took an entire book to answer that question.

Dr Ashman Rowe's current research project deal with the question ‘why these kinds of texts at those times?’ Here she is looking at the medieval annals of Iceland, which are histories organised year by year, with notices about important or interesting events that happened in that year. The annals tell us about such things as volcanic eruptions, epidemics, ship-wrecks, the weather, crimes, and the doings of emperors, kings, popes, bishops, and officials. Aside from the appeal of their tabloid-like news, the annals are significant because the Icelanders also had quite a different way of writing history, which was in the form of long prose sagas. These sagas are unique in medieval Europe and were very popular in Iceland, so why did some Icelanders use the foreign, imported form of annals to write history instead?

As part of this project, she is translating the annals into English, so that these historical sources can be more widely accessible. The annals provide data for scientists, contemporary records for historians, information for literary scholars, and what certainly sounds like a sighting of the Icelandic version of the Loch Ness monster.