Runic Scholar and Midwest Historian Visit Philadelphia’s Swedish Museum

Henrik & Dave

Dr. Williams (on the left) and me at the American Swedish Historical Museum. We are both pointing to the respective regions in Sweden to which we have familial ties. My great-great grandparents came to Minnesota in the 1880s.

As noted in a previous post, I invited Swedish runic scholar Henrik Williams to speak at a special event on November 14, 2016 at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Dr. Williams is a professor of Scandinavian languages at Uppsala University in Sweden and cooperates with the American Association of Runic Studies (AARS), an organization committed to historically accurate, peer-reviewed, scientific analysis of runes and runic inscriptions. Henrik is also engaged in an educational partnership with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. Be sure to visit the team website for a series of articles and a video about accurate portrayals of Viking history.

Earlier in the day, I had the pleasure of escorting Henrik Williams and Loraine Jensen, president of AARS, to the American Swedish Historical Museum. We met with executive director Tracey Beck and got an insider’s tour of the museum with various staff members. After a short fika (Swedish coffee and refreshments), Henrik was put to work analyzing some runic text found on a ceremonial cane at the museum. He was able to determine that the runes were related to a calendar of holidays.

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Readers of this blog may be unaware that the Swedes played an important role in the history of Philadelphia. Although the large migration of Swedes to the American Upper Midwest did not occur until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Delaware River Valley was colonized by Sweden from 1638 to 1655. Although the colony was short-lived and eventually taken over by the Dutch, and later, the English, the Swedes had a lasting impact on the region. The Gloria Dei ‘Old Swedes’ Church is the oldest surviving church building in Philadelphia. The blue and yellow colors of Philadelphia’s city flag are said to have been chosen to commemorate the city’s Swedish heritage. The American Swedish Historical Museum was founded in 1926 to to preserve and promote Swedish and Swedish-American cultural heritage and traditions in Philadelphia and beyond.

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Henrik, Loraine, and I spent much of the afternoon at the museum viewing the various exhibits. Before we departed for the evening’s Kensington Rune Stone lecture at the Penn Museum (to be discussed in a forthcoming blog post), Henrik presented me with a two gifts. The first was a copy of an excellent book called Runes by Martin Findell. It was published by the British Museum and it is an authoritative text on runic inscriptions. The second was a pin from Uppsala University. According to Henrik, the pin makes me an honorary member of the Uppsala University global community. I’m honored!

uppsala-pin

I look forward to returning to the American Swedish Historical Museum in the spring for their annual Viking day held on April 29, 2017 from 12 – 4 pm. I will be giving a lecture on the enduring popularity of Vikings in American culture. I very much enjoyed giving a presentation at last year’s Viking Day on my book Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America.

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David M. Krueger, PhD

American Runic Tour 2016

henrik-williams

Uppsala University runic scholar Henrik Williams seated next to the Kensingon Rune Stone.

The aim of Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America is to tell the story of how the Kensington Rune Stone emerged as sacred, civic totem that embodied the aspirations and anxieties of Minnesotans in the twentieth century. Furthermore, it illuminates the various reasons that Minnesotans have wanted so badly to believe that Vikings visited the American Midwest long before Christopher Columbus reached the “New World.” The question of “is the rune stone real or fake?”is not the most important part of my analysis.

My working assumption has been that the runic inscrption unearthed in a Swedish immigrant’s farm field in 1898 was most likely created in the late nineteenth century. When people press me on the specifics of why I don’t consider it to be an artifact created in the fourteenth century, I refer them to the work of researchers who are better equipped to answer the geological, linguistic, archaeological, and historical questions pertinent to the Kensington Rune Stone. I remind people that I am primarily a 19th and 20th-century historian who specializes in social theory, religion, and American culture. Given the somewhat superficial attention I give to the question of the rune stone’s authenticity in my book, I have listed some additional resources here that will help readers to wrestle with the many scientific questions involved. Among the researchers I have found to be the most persuasive is runic scholar Henrik Williams.

Dr. Williams is a professor of Scandinavian languages at Uppsala University in Sweden and he is also the lead researcher for the American Association of Runic Studies, which is committed to historically accurate, peer-reviewed, scientific analysis of runes and runic inscriptions. The organization also coordinates academic exchanges between Sweden and the United States. In coming weeks, William will be traveling across the U.S. and may be speaking at a location near you (see full itinerary below).

I’m particularly excited that Dr. Williams will be speaking along with me at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA on Monday, November 19 at 600 pm. The title of our panel is “Vikings, Pioneers, and Natives: the Kensington Rune Stone and the Contested History of the American Midwest.” Follow the links for the Penn Museum announcement and the Facebook event page. We will be joined by Dr. Ada Kuskowski (Department of History) and Dr. Brian Daniels (Penn Cultural Heritage Center) who are both professors at the University of Pennsylvania. The conversation will be interdisciplinary and will consider how ideas about race, religion, and science play out through the artifact known as the Kensington Rune Stone.

A light reception will follow the event and I’ll be there to sign books as well.

A complete list of the Henrik Williams events in the United States:

October 25, Seattle, WA
Norwegian Heritage Museum, Cracking the Runic Code


October 26, San Francisco, CA
6:00 p.m., Swedish American Hall at 2174 Market Street, San Francisco, CA
Runic Women

October 29, Northfield, MN
Norwegian American Historical Assn (NAHA) Annual Meeting, Saint Olaf College, (private event)

November 1, Saint Paul, MN
Minnesota History Center, Rune Stones American Style

November 2,  Minneapolis, MN
American Swedish Institute, Henrik Williams: A Day with the Runic Scholar

November 3rd,, Alexandria, MN
Celebration Dinner, (private event)

November 5th, Bloomington, MN
Torske Klubben,“Cracking the Runic Code: Runes and Runic Inscriptions in Norway”, (members only event)

November 6th, Minneapolis, MN
Uppsala University Recognition: Minnesota Vikings vs. Detroit Football game

November 8th
Presentation/Discussion with UCO students Medieval Association. “Runes in Sweden and on Gotland” (class participation)

November 9th
“Forbidden Archaeology” with Dr. Andy White, University of South Carolina, Topic: Kensington Rune Stone, (class participation)

November 9th
Presentation/Discussion with UCO students, Historical Research Course, “Runes and North American Runes”, (class participation)

November 9th, Edmond, OK,
Oklahoma, Sons of Norway, (private event)

November 11,  Sierra Vista, AZ
Windemere Conference Center, Henrik Williams: Runic Inscriptions in the Mustang Mountains

November 14, Philadelphia, PA
6:00 p.m., Rainey Auditorium, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 3620 South Street

November 17, Washington, DC
Smithsonian Associates, Henrik Williams: Cracking the Runic Code: The Alphabet of Mystery