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Saturday, March 6, 2010

My First Attempts at Label Writing

For the Seminar 'Mapping Medievalism at the Canadian Frontier' I have been looking at several texts which I think should be included in the Exhibit at the end of the Seminar. I have included here the images I took of the four texts I chose, and the four labels that I wrote. As you may have been able to deduce from my short writing for the public piece I am not very good at condensing my ideas. I found the label writing to be particularly hard. Here is the first draft of these four labels, I welcome any feedback.



Asahel Davis

Antiquities of America, The First Inhabitants of Central America, and the Discovery of New England, By the Northmen, Five Hundred Years Before Columbus, with Important Additions, 1846

And is it not a laudable curiosity that leads one to ascertain what white men first trod regions in which the modest wild flower wasted its sweetness on the desert air?

This is the sixteenth edition of this lecture to be printed, showing the work’s immense popularity. The first printings were in 1838-39. At the time that this lecture was circulating the tales of the Norse voyages were only starting to be brought to the attention of the scholarly community in America.

Davis relies on the work of The Royal Society of Antiquarians, who produced the Antiquitates Americanae in Danish in 1837. That was the first time the Vinland sagas, the sagas about Norse landings in Greenland and North America, had been translated and printed for the public. Davis argues, based on the content of the sagas, that the history of the Norsemen in this continent should be made a part of the larger scholarly understanding of the Antiquities of America.

Megan Arnott MA Public History 2010

Collection of the D.B. Weldon Library
The University of Western Ontario



Farley Mowat

Westviking: The Ancient Norse in Greenland and North America, 1965

Farley Mowat is among the great literary nation builders of Canada. His focus is the Canadian North, and the relationship of Canadians to the land, and with each other within the context of the land. His use of the medieval European connection in reconstructing the Canadian North is given weight because of the clout Mowat has as a Canadian author.

The Norse voyages to Canada is a theme that is repeated in many of his works, including The Curse of the Viking Grave (1966), ‘The Iron Men’ in The Snow Walker (1975), and in The Farfarers: Before the Norse (1998). The latter and this work are both scholarly texts that discuss European arrival in Canada in the context of evidence and anthropology.

There is a conflict that occurs when Mowat tries to reconstruct the Norse landings in the context of Canadian history. The existence of an ancient, almost mythical European presence helps to naturalize the existence of Europeans in Canada. However, the Norse were not themselves native to the land, so their arrival can be seen as part of the trend of later European imperialism. This is a conflict that is not resolved.

Megan Arnott MA Public History 2010

Collection of the D.B. Weldon Library
The University of Western Ontario



Marie A. Brown Shipley

The Icelandic Discoverers of America or Honor to Whom Honor is Due, 1887

In the nineteenth century, and before the discovery of the Norse settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows, there were many texts written defending the idea that the Norse were here before Christopher Columbus. Some were very scholarly examinations of the sagas and the science of sailing. Some were also emotional pleas to include the Norsemen in the national myth. This is strictly the latter.

Marie Shipley’s work relies heavily on the scholarship of others to establish the truth of the sagas. Most of the text is allotted to how the Catholic Church and Spain are the root of all evil in modern American life, and how if we accept Christopher Columbus as the discoverer of America we are accepting the overlordship and tyranny of the Catholic Church through Spain.

On the front cover, the quote from Bayard Taylor,
From shores where Thorfinn set thy banner/ Their latest children seek thee now,
accompanied by an image of a banner with an eagle on it, is supposed to both show how Americans are directly the inheritors of the Norse and provoke them to restore the Norse to their place of glory. This will in turn restore glory and freedom to the American people.

Megan Arnott MA Public History 2010

Collection of the D.B. Weldon Library
The University of Western Ontario



Robert McGhee


Canada Rediscovered, 1991


Robert McGhee plays on the word ‘discovery,’ because the Europeans, of course, did not ‘discover’ Canada. This is why Canada is ‘rediscovered.’

McGhee places the arrival of different waves of migration to North America into a global context of settlement. He also discusses our own perceptions of Canada’s ‘discovery.’ It is significant that this work was published in 1991, one year before the five hundredth anniversary of the ‘discovery’ of Christopher Columbus.

The helmet, though not an artefact found on Canadian soil, was chosen for the cover because it represents the Old Norse culture. The Norse are the first Europeans archaeologists can prove were here, completing McGhee’s circle of the globe by man. The Norsemen challenge the position of Columbus in the public’s imagination as the first European to arrive in North America. Therefore, in the year when the public expects to see Columbus, the Norsemen have been represented on purpose to make audiences re-evaluate their perception of the ‘discovery’ of Canada.

Megan Arnott MA Public History 2010

Collection of the D.B. Weldon Library
The University of Western Ontario

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