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SCAND 270 A: Sagas of the Vikings

Stave Church Artwork
MW 1:30pm - 2:20pm / THO 101
TTh 1:30pm - 2:20pm / KNE 110
Photo of Lauren Poyer
Lauren Poyer

Syllabus Description:

What is this course even about?

This course gives students an understanding of medieval saga literature as a genre and as a window into the cultural history of Iceland from the Viking Age to the late Middle Ages. The Sagas of Icelanders narrate the legendary exploits of Iceland’s Viking Age ancestors and examine the power structures of a proto-democratic society bordering on anarchy. Who has access to justice? How does the execution of the law intersect with gender, class, race, and religion?

The sagas contain stories that were kept alive by oral tradition and shaped by generations of storytellers. They are both reflections on the past and interrogations of the present. Themes include the conversion to Christianity, the concentration of wealth, and the loss of sovereignty. Through their seamless integration of folklore, myth, and history, the sagas prompt us to examine our own cultural narratives. Students will examine the methodological problems involved in studying sagas as cultural and historical documents and learn to ask: how does the way we talk about the past affect the present?


What will you learn?

The goal of this course is not only to give you a basic understanding of some of the broad cultural, literary, and social features of medieval Scandinavia, but also to give you insight into the specific conditions within medieval Iceland that gave rise to Old Norse literary production. You will be able to identify key themes in this literature, communicate these themes to others, and contextualize these themes historically.

This class will also give you the basic tools and vocabulary to critically read, analyze, and interpret medieval literature. You will practice a variety of analytical frameworks with which to approach the function of narrative within structures of social, economic, and political power in a medieval Scandinavian context.


How do you contact me?

Office hours are your time. If you have questions about anything related to the course material, the course itself, Old Norse language and/or culture in general, study abroad opportunities, a major or minor in Scandinavian Studies, or anything else, please come by my office hours. My office hours are from 2:30 PM - 3:30 PM on Mondays and Tuesdays in Raitt Hall Room 305U. If you are unable to make these hours because of scheduling issues or personal reasons, I am also available by appointment.

Please do email me with questions ( I will try to reply to all emails concerning material not on the syllabus within 24 hours. I only check email during business hours, or from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Keep in mind that we meet for class late in the afternoon, so if you email me with a question a few hours after class, I will not respond until the following morning. Please plan accordingly.


What do you need?

Readings for each day are in the course plan. The three textbooks required for the course are listed below. Additional readings are available through Canvas and will be available one week in advance.


What is unique about this course?

This course attempts to follow best practices for a Universal Design for Learning. I will attempt to incorporate as many learning styles and strategies as possible into the curriculum for this course. If a particular learning style or strategy works best for you (or doesn’t work at all), please let me know in office hours. Be mindful that what does not work for you might work for others and vice versa. Any classroom is a collaborative learning environment, even a large-scale “lecture” course like this one. Decades of research have consistently demonstrated that collaborative learning environments significantly increase critical-thinking skills compared to individual learning environments. Collaborative learning environments depend on mutual respect and understanding: we all learn best when we are invested in each others’ successes. If you require any accommodations, I encourage you to contact Disability Resources for Students (DRS).

The University of Washington is committed to a diverse, inclusive, and equitable educational environment. Do not be afraid to hold yourselves, others, and the university at large accountable. Report instances of harassment or discrimination based on “race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, disability, ancestry, age, sexual orientation, pregnancy, marital status, or parental status” or gender identity here. Remember that you have a right to safety and that this includes safety against “sexual assault, relationship violence, stalking, [and] sexual harassment,” which you can report here. Note that “all University employees...are required to report to their supervisors or the administrative heads of their organizations any complaints of discrimination, harassment or sexual harassment.”

I will ask for name and pronoun preferences privately at the beginning of this course. You are of course free to change how you wish to be called; simply let me know in writing or in person. Calling someone by their preferred name and/or pronouns is a sign of respect and the expectation in this course: refusing to do so will not be tolerated and you will be asked to leave.

College is hard. If at any point you notice a change in your health or habits that negatively affects your happiness or well being, I encourage you to contact the Hall Health Center or the Counseling Center. Your Services & Activities Fee goes in part toward these services; you pay for this resource for managing stress, anxiety, depression, time management issues, and more.

Instances of academic misconduct will be handled on a case-by-case basis. For more information, please visit the the UW Community Standards & Student Conduct page on academic misconduct.

As a lecturer at the University of Washington, I am a state employee. Salary information for state employees is public record and is available at


How will you be evaluated in this course?

There will be four (4) out-of-class assignments. Each assignment will require you to practice a different skill, and each skill will build upon the last to prepare you for your capstone project. Rubrics for these assignments will be given later in the quarter.

Weekly quizzes are checks of reading and lecture completion and comprehension. There will be ten quizzes over the course of the quarter, one each week. Quizzes will be published the Friday of each week at 9:00 AM and will remain open for one full week. Each quiz may be taken exactly twice.

Your capstone proposal is an opportunity for you to get early-stage feedback for your capstone project. Your proposal should be one to two paragraphs in length and should articulate the medium and topic of your capstone project, as well as list possible sources.

The capstone project is your chance to apply the content-knowledge and critical-thinking skills you gain in this course to a topic of your choice. This project is due by the end of the university-scheduled final exam period. The form of the project is up to you; you can write a traditional research paper, create a video or photo essay, design a visual art piece, anything you like. Consider it an open-ended “creative” project. More information on the formal requirements of this project will be given in Week 6.

At the end of the quarter, in addition to a capstone project, you are also required to submit a capstone reflection: a 1-2 page write-up of what you did for your capstone project, what your influences were from the course, how you applied them to a different medium, what challenges you faced, etc. This reflection is a space for you to narrativize your creative and/or research process. More information on the formal requirements of this project will be given in Week 6.


What is the grading scale?

Grades for this course are calculated on a 100-point (percent) scale and converted to the University of Washington 4.0-scale prior to final submission. Conversion follows a linear scale recommended by Sharon Hargus and Laurie Poulson in the Department of Linguistics and available here. According to this conversion scale, percentage ranges for each letter grade are as follows:

A: 90-100

A- (90-94); A (95-100)

B: 80-89

B- (80-83); B (84-86); B+ (87-89)

C: 70-79

C- (70-73); C (74-76); C+ (77-79)

D: 62-69

D- (62-63); D (64-66); D+ (67-69)

E: 0-61


How is your grade calculated?

40% Out-of-class assignments (10% ea x 4)

25% Weekly quizzes (2.5% ea x 10)

5% Capstone proposal

25% Capstone project

5% Capstone reflection

Catalog Description: 
Icelandic sagas and poetry about Vikings in the context of thirteenth-century society.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:19pm