Your students will be mesmerized as they ponder the myriad cultural meanings of this controversial American artifact.
It’s not too late to add another book to your spring syllabus! Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America is a multi-disciplinary text and would make a useful addition to courses in U.S history, sociology, religious studies, American studies, and Native American studies. The book is intended to appeal to both undergraduate and graduate students. It is a highly readable, slim volume at 159 pages, but it contains an additional 34 pages of notes for those looking to dig deeper. Lecture notes, discussions questions, and other resources will soon be available on this website. Below are some suggestions for how to use the book in the classroom. Intersecting themes in the book include:
- Myths: how they are created, adapted, propagated over time; mythic genre i.e. Christian nation, origin, blood sacrifice, homemaking, and more.
- History: collective memory, popular challenges to dominant historiography, the quest for Europeans in pre-Columbian America
- Sociology: how social groups use martyrdom narratives, scapegoat theory, identity formation
- Religion: theories of religion via Bourdieu, Durkheim, Girard, Tweed, Eliade, Pahl, and others; sacred spaces and landscapes, local adaptations of American civil religion, Catholic American identity
- Native Americans and Race: white appropriations of Native Americans, the construction of whiteness, the ongoing cultural impact of Minnesota’s Dakota War of 1862
- Ethnicity: Scandinavian American identity, immigrant religion/history
- Region: Midwestern/small town identities and regional tensions
- Science: Anti-intellectualism, psuedoarchaeology, pseudo-history; why belief persists when science contradicts
How the book is organized…
The book is organized thematically and individual chapters could be useful if assigned on their own. Below is a guide to the themes and time periods unique to each chapter.
Introduction: A Holy Mission to Minnesota
- Opens with a dramatic civic pageant held in 1962, illustrates the high point of Kensington Rune Stone belief.
- Outlines a theoretical frame looking at the rune stone story
1. Westward from Vinland: An Immigrant Saga by Hjalmar Holand
- Illuminates what Viking discovery narratives meant for immigrants from Sweden and Norway in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
- Shows how Hjalmar Holand used the rune stone to further his ethnic aims
2. Knutson’s Last Stand: Fabricating the First White Martyrs of the American West
- Links the creation and interpretation of the runic inscription to the Dakota War of 1862.
- Illustrates how Minnesotans used the rune stone story as a way to scapegoat Native Americans and justify the white conquest of the American frontier
3. In Defense of Main Street: The Kensington Rune Stone as a Midwestern Plymouth Rock
- Shows hows Minnesotans used the rune stone to restore the cultural prestige of rural and small town life
- Illustrates how the rune stone emerged as a sacred civic artifact starting in the 1920s
4. Our Lady of the Runestone and America’s Baptism with Catholic Blood
- Demonstrates how Catholic leaders used the Scandinavian artifact to both fashion a Catholic American identity and proselytize Lutherans
5. Immortal Rock: Cold War Religion, Centennials, and the Return of the Skrælings
- Dramatizes how Minnesotans defended the rune stone as a symbol of the Christian faith.
- Places the rune stone narrative in the context of Cold War religion and the fear of secularization.
Conclusion: The Enduring Legacy of American Viking Myths
Connect With the Author!
I’m the guy without the historically-inaccurate Viking horns.
I live in Philadelphia but I can speak to your classroom via Skype or other video technologies. This past October, I spoke to a graduate history seminar at St. Cloud Sate University and also at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Minnesota. In April 2016, I’ll be speaking at the Minnesota Historical Society and I am available to for lectures and discussions groups in Minnesota. Please be in touch!