The second St Magnus Conference, which is being hosted in Shetland this year, starts tomorrow with a civic reception and on Thursday lectures on the theme of the Northern Isles and the Sea.
The conference will explore the maritime heritage and identity of Shetland and Orkney, the maritime connections which linked the isles to the wider North Atlantic world in the past, and which will be nurtured in the future.
Delegates have come from many different countries and institutions. There are some home-grown experts from Shetland Museum and Archives, the Centre for Nordic Studies, Shetland College, and the NAFC Marine Centre. However, there are also delegates from the USA, from Virginia and Maine.
There are others from Reykjavik and Akureyri in Iceland, from Bergen and Oslo in Norway and others from Scotland and England.
Four speakers are anchoring the conference – Dr James Barrett, whose talk is called <i>Laughing Playfully at</i> <i>the Threats of a Menacing Ocean: The Northern Isles in the Viking Age and Middle Ages</i>; Robert Alan Jamieson who will talk about his poetry and its connection with the sea; Professor Terry Gunnell, from Iceland, who will explore Icelandic folklore traditions and Professor Arne Emil Christensen from Norway, who will discuss <i>Boatbuilding in Western Norway and the Islands, Tradition and Innovation</i>.
The other sessions will explore a wide variety of maritime subjects, covering subjects as disparate as fishing terminology, Viking line-sinkers and Shetland links with the Nordic region during the 19th century.
Many sessions will focus on the more distant past, for example, the importance of Mavis Grind in Neolithic times, the heyday of fishing in AD 1000, how the earldom of the Northern Isles was maintained a thousand years ago, how the remains of a small farm found in the Unst sand dunes showed how life changed in medieval Shetland and land rental in this period.
Other talks will be on press gangs, the isles’ Hanseatic past, the variations between places in the isles’ archipelagoes where men were fishermen and farmers and the women were “poly-active”, Arctic whaling and the differences between Norwegian and Shetland boat-building.
Some talks will focus on other regions, such as a study of Icelandic saints and the saga sites, and there will be a generous helping of folklore.
There will be discussion of more modern topics too, such as how living in an island influences career choices, the maintenance of dialect and the waning of traditional crofting and fishing.
Additionally there will be a boat building demonstration and a display of art from Shetland College on maritime themes.
The event is supported by the Norwegian Consulate, Promote Shetland, the Northern Lighthouse Board and VisitScotland through its Conference Bid Fund.
The conference will be recorded and made available online and there will be a publication in due course.