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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

PhD in Viking/Norse Studies in North America

A little while back the blog Old Norse News had a discussion about the different places where one might be able to study Viking/Norse Studies in North America. It was a good start, and the real value to that was in the comments, because people commented on what their schools had to offer.

I don't know everywhere in the States or Canada that offers Old Norse at the undergraduate and graduate level, but I can share my experience of applying to different schools and the PhD programs that I have encountered here in NA. I feel it is pretty thorough, but maybe because I just feel like I have been looking at this subject for awhile.

University of Toronto:

I will continue to apply to this school, though my chances continue to be slim. I was at the International Congress of Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo at the University of Toronto reception and told some of the students that I was interested in going to the UofT Centre for Medieval Studies to study a Norse subject. One of the students looked at me and said 'really?' Apparently, though it is synonymous with medieval studies it is not necessarily with Norse Studies. This is not because there is not quailty people, because there is. However David and Ian McDougall don't really supervise PhD candidates, because they are mostly involved with the Dictionary of Old English program. This leaves Andy Orchard as the only person who could supervise a thesis on a Norse subject, which is a big burden for a large institute. In addition, so far he has been a bit more difficult to get a hold of to consult with. However, it is still one of the best institutions in North America and I will continue to apply also because it would be the most convenient for me.

Cornell University

This is a more obvious choice. Both Oren Falk, who does not just philology and language but society as well, and Thomas D. Hill are both Norse supervisors at this Medieval Institute. The ideal thing about this school and U of T are that they are both Medieval Institutes. This means that interdisciplinarian approaches and backgrounds are appropriate.

University of Saskatchewan:

Richard Harris in the English department is very active in the North American Norse scholarly community. However, the PhD is in English, so if you have an interdisciplinarian background you are unlikely to be considered.

University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Scandinavian Studies program does have a PhD program here. There are quite a few good people working here that could supervise a PhD on a Norse/Viking subject. However, you will need to speak a modern Scandinavian, preferably mainland, language. Background in Old Norse is not sufficient.

University of California - Berkeley:

The Department of Scandinavian Studies takes PhD students in Norse/Viking subjects. A modern mainland Scandinavian language helps. John Lindow is one of the primary supervisors and definitely the one to talk to.

Fordham University:

Again, only apply here if you have a solid background in English, as it is not really about interdisciplinary programs. But Martin Chase is a scholar here.

University of Western Michigan

As the home of the International Congress of Medieval Studies it hosts a good number of people, including Jana Schulman. International Students have to apply through the international studies department first. And their is no PhD in Medieval Studies so the degree has to be in either English or Comparative Religion, so prepare for requirements and distributions that are unrelated to what you would like to do. But they do accept people with un-traditional backgrounds.

Indiana University:

Prof. Fulk is in the English department and Prof. Gade is in the Germanic Studies department. If your PhD is focused more on Old Norse than English or Germanic Studies, then there is not really a place here for you. However, both of those departments do have people who work in Old Norse and PhD programs.

University of Washington and University of Minnesota:

Both have Scandinavian Studies programs, but do not seem to have the resources to host PhD students doing an Norse/Viking topic. This may change.

University of Western Ontario:

Dr. Poole was, up until recently, a member of the English Faculty here. He will no longer be shortly, and will not be able to supervise any theses. This was, but is no longer an option for a PhD.

Harvard University:

Yes, Prof. Mitchell is here. And there is room for interdiscipline studies. But it is also Harvard, so all the difficulties implied for getting accepted stand.

I am welcome to more suggestions of other places to apply. I realize I have picked a subject that not many people in North America are working on or can supervise, but I am interested in continuing my studies in North America since I would like to be a scholar in North America. Don't get me wrong, wouldn't trade my MA in Norse and Viking Studies from the University of Nottingham (see photo above) for anything. But how will I be known if I can't do the conference circuit here instead of there. I hope these tips and this experience can help others as well as generate some help for me.


  1. University of Connecticut has a Medieval Studies Program for both the M.A. and PhD. The program is interdisciplinary, and I feel, highly respectable. There is not any "Old Norse" specialists specifically, but there are a significant few who are willing to supervise on Old Norse topics, mainly under English and Philology.

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