Lessons in taking and keeping power from medieval Scandinavia

A Business & Finance, Humanities project


In today’s media, whether it is TV, film, books, newspapers, or magazines, there is an underlying obsession with power in all its forms. We watch individuals vying for political and military power, as much in the news as in the fictional Game of Thrones (and its antecedent A Song of Ice and Fire book series) or House of Cards. We see characters struggling to become financial top dogs, as in Suits, Power, War Dogs, or the Wolf of Wall Street. Religious power, too, has joined the party in spite of the increased secularisation of society, and viewers have been drawn in by fantastic shows like The Tudors, The Borgias, or The Young Pope, as well as books like Conclave.

In my mind at least, these stories allow us to form a kind of metastory (or story of stories). This metastory is constructed from the commonalities between the tales we hear or see, and can be applied to our very own power games. Perhaps this is why narratives of power are so compelling: they have a usefulness for the audience.

The main issue with many of the stories we immerse ourselves in are that they are just that, stories. Surely, of far more use would be to learn our lessons in power from history. It naturally follows that, by being true and therefore more useful, these histories are themselves far more interesting.

When people hear the word “Scandinavia”, two things usually pop into their heads: cold weather and the Vikings. But many people don’t know that following the Viking Age, Scandinavian history becomes even more fascinating, with the Nordic kingdoms traversing troubled times as their state formation processes plodded steadily on. During this tumultuous era (c.1100-1300) some of the most fascinating power games ever played took place, for example when King Håkon the Old of Norway managed to annex Iceland without ever having to fight a single battle.

Unfortunately, a full-length and far-reaching survey has never been given over exclusively to an overarching study of strategy in this period. This, frankly, is a travesty.

From September 2017, I am to begin studying for my MPhil/PhD at University College London in the Department of Scandinavian Studies (starting as an MPhil candidate is the same as being a probationary first year at other institutions – following sufficient progress you are given full PhD candidate status). My current intention for my research is to attempt to fill this gap in the literature by exposing the strategies of power employed by magnates during this period. The working title for the thesis is ‘Höfðingja skuggsjá: Strategy in Scandinavia, 1100-1300’.

This topic is something which has slowly grown out of the research I undertook for my MA dissertation at the University of Birmingham. The consequence, though, of a gradually thought out research idea, is that LAHP (the University of London’s funding consortium) received my ideas in their very earliest stage, which were not fully-formed enough to warrant funding at that stage. I have built something of a war-chest from tutoring and concurrently looked into multiple funding opportunities while I undertake the last stages of my MA write up, from grants-making trusts to part-time jobs. Additionally I intend on reapplying for LAHP funding this coming year.

However, as I am hoping to draw together enough funding to ensure I am able to carry this goal through to completion, I feel it is worth offering those interested in this project the opportunity to contribute, and in so doing to become a part of it if they so wish.

This is not a plea for money as I am not going to starve if you do not donate. I would prefer it if you gave money to a charity (Save the Children is particularly good) than to receive money from someone under the illusion that I am suffering.

Instead, what I offer is the opportunity to be a patron, to provide additional funds to the pool I am attempting to pull together, so as to ensure this project reaches its full potential.

Thank you very much for reading. If you have any questions, please get in touch, and if you are decide to donate, thank you once again.

Daniel White

Academic Institution: University College London
Course: MPhil/PhD Scandinavian Studies, 2017-2021
User Profile:Daniel White

What is your motivation for doing a PhD?

Why did you choose your research topic/title

Your achievments

-I am currently in the write-up phase of my dissertation for my MA in Medieval Studies (B'ham), with all things indicating that I am to graduate with a distinction. -Presented my debut academic paper at the War Through Other Stuff conference at the University of Edinburgh in February 2017. -Fellow of the Royal Society for Arts, 2016-Present. -BA (Hons) War Studies (B'ham) - Class I, 2013-2016.

What difference will this research make in your life and the lives of others?

This research will benefit both the field of medieval Scandinavian studies and the wider community. In the context of the field, it will fill a gap in the research. Taking a broader view, it will push forward our cumulative understanding of successful strategies of power. I am particularly interested in the applicability of historical strategy in the present day, as illustrated by this article I wrote for the University of Sheffield's History Matters blog: http://www.historymatters.group.shef.ac.uk/jarl-donald-trumps-temperament-fared-icelands-game-thrones/

Lessons in taking and keeping power from medieval Scandinavia

A Business & Finance, Humanities project

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Lessons in taking and keeping power from medieval Scandinavia

A Business & Finance, Humanities project

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