The Complete Sagas of Icelanders

I love great literature and storytelling. During my Classical Studies B.A. and Humanities minor, I enjoyed my journeys through Homer, Apollonius of Rhodes, Virgil, Dante, etc. In recent years my interests have shifted into the medieval time period, and from the Mediterranean region to northern Europe. I signed up for a MOOC on The Medieval Icelandic Sagas from the University of Iceland (which I described in a previous post), and that really got me excited and put me on a journey that looks to keep me busy for a good long time!

The Complete Sagas of Icelanders from Leifur Eiriksson Publishing.

Since the end of last year I have chosen to get The Complete Saga of Icelanders in one finely crafted collection with rigorous academic translations and explanations. This collection has 40 full sagas and 49 shorter tales. There is a lot of reading here! Although this cost 300 dollars, it is actually cheaper than buying them all in paperback from Penguin Books (which has taken most of the stories from the complete collection available from Leifur Eiriksson Publishing and turned them into paperbacks, albeit with a larger amount of editorial and historical background material with glossaries for each individual saga, which you expect from Penguin). Of course, I still have quite a few Penguin editions since they are more portable and I can read them while out and about, but I wanted a sturdy and well-bound collection to read while at home in my personal library. I have found both the hardcover Leifur Eiriksson collection and the Penguin editions are valuable and useful.

The slipcase collection comes with a useful guide booklet for the collection.
The interior of each book has charts and maps to assist the reader in acquiring a fuller picture of the sagas and the surrounding history and culture.
Individual Icelandic Sagas and related literature.

When it comes to the Saga of Icelanders, I have so far read Gisli Sursson’s Saga, The Saga of the People of Eyri, Njal’s Saga, and The Saga of Grettir the Strong, and I will be moving on to more of them. However, I have also planned more reading in the Poetic Edda, the Heimskringla, and some of the Viking Romances – I want to cover all the different types of Norse literature!

Medieval Icelandic Sagas

I love history, folklore, and literature. I’ve been meaning to get into the Icelandic Sagas for a while, but never made the big leap. But I recently got the motivation to sign up for The Medieval Icelandic Sagas online MOOC from the University of Iceland.

A selection of my Icelandic Saga texts.

Signing up for a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) is a mixed bag. Because you can sign up for it at any time and can take as long as you want, I suspect most people may start but never finish it, or they may finish but never get the most out of it since it is easy to coast or skip through them. Some of the presentations can also be boring. However, if you are self-motivated, then a MOOC can be a great way to augment your knowledge on some topic.

In the case of this Icelandic Saga MOOC, I get in one neat package a six week overview of all aspects of the Sagas. The syllabus is as follows:
Week 1: Historical Overview
Week 2: Manuscripts
Week 3: Landscape and Archaeology
Week 4: Saga Characters
Week 5: Paganism and Christianity
Week 6: The Supernatural

I have an undergraduate degree in classical civilizations and graduate degrees in philosophy, so I have the skills to do academic research. What this course provides is a surface look at six key areas to begin study and I can then bring to bear my abilities to build upon it. This is something interesting for me at a personal level in two ways (i) I am shifting my research into medieval studies, and (ii) Norse culture plays a large part in my Castles & Crusades campaigns and my developing game world, and this will allow me to bring that to life in a richer way.

I’ve completed the first two weeks of work so far and look forward to the rest. I plan to space the remainder out through the end of the year. When this is done I should have a much richer view of medieval Iceland.

If anyone is interested in looking into this, here is a link:
https://www.edx.org/course/the-medieval-icelandic-sagas-2

Philosophy and Outreach

I think Philosophy is the most profound discipline. I learned so much about the world and myself on my journey to completing my PhD, and it is the accomplishment I am most proud of in my life. Yet during my time in graduate school I began to feel a distance from the discipline as I came to view far too many philosopher detached from real world engagement. When I expressed these views I was told every discipline needs people who can chisel away at the edges where you may not find direct application in the real world. There is truth to that, but from my perspective too many academic philosophers were doing this.

As I’ve read about philosophy departments being reduced in numbers or even being shutdown, I feel sadness at the loss for the philosophers and that of the students who may now never have the opportunity to see the world in a new way. And yet with so many philosophers not engaging with the public and demonstrating the relevance and vital importance of their discipline to lived life, there is a part of me that thinks this may be a good thing in the long run, perhaps it can shake the discipline enough to actually go out and demonstrate its importance. The great philosophers of the past engaged with the people and places of their times and had impact on their society (e.g. Socrates, Plato, Locke, Russell, Sartre), more need to do it in our time.

In the half decade since I’ve moved on from academia I still do a lot of reading, but I am surprised how much smaller a portion of my reading time is dedicated to philosophy. At any given time I have several philosophy books in my large academic library which I’ve partially pulled out from the surrounding books on the shelf to remind myself to sit down when I have a free moment and dip into them. Yet when the free time comes I usually find myself reaching other books. My field of specialty was in 4EA Cognition (Embedded, Embodied, Enactive, Extended, and Affective). The field emerged in the early 90’s, and when I jumped into it from 2007-2014 there was a large amount of time spent arguing how the 4 E’s and the A should be defined. This is an area which could have important applications in areas like education, psychotherapy, and sport when it comes to how we teach, learn, navigate, and dwell in the world, and yet I struggle to see much real-world application being done in this area.

Still, there are a few academic philosophers who get together with others outside their discipline to examine the challenges of our time, and the DailyNous blog post linked below discusses some of these gatherings as well as a recent eBook made available for free called Pandemic Ethics.

“If philosophy is to thrive, it must be sensitive and responsive to the world it is meant to engage with. The non-philosophers in our reading group shed light on a world that may be difficult for us philosophers to see and point out aspects of  lived experiences that we may not have access to.”

Teaching Diary: More Cute Kid Stories (13/10/2015)

[Originally published on 13 October 2015]

Teaching Diary – More Cute Kid stories. I am really worried now, for it seems I have crossed some threshold and now more of my students are opening up with terrifying expressions of happiness and joy!

Example 1: Today I received my first gift from a student. They had drawn, coloured in, and cut out a flower and gave it to me as a present. When we finished our reading, she left my room by saying “bye bye butterfly”! This, of course, concerns me (does she perhaps need glasses?), for I look nothing like a butterfly, more like a bloated caterpillar!

Example 2: The child who told me they “wuvved me” yesterday said it again today. Several times. The frequent hugs were almost unbearable! On the positive side, the last time he actually said: “I love you”, which means the lisp is gone, so I no longer have to teach him anymore, and can probably dump off the affectionate little bundle of joy within a few days! 😛

Example 3: This kid was just plain hilarious today. I’ve been using a book for my reading interventions the last few days called ‘The Salamander Room’, where there is a kid who brings a salamander home and his mom keeps asking him questions (e.g. “how are you going to feed him?” “I’ll bring in insects.” How will you take care of the multiplying insects?” “I’ll bring in some birds to eat them.” “How are the birds supposed to live in your room?” “I’ll take the roof off the house and plant trees in our house for them to live in.”) Every kid today who read the story ended up loving the idea of having a kid slowly turn his room (and house) into an extension of the great forest outside.

Well, this particular student would have none of it. As soon as the child in the story proposed a solution to his mom, my student got frustrated and would raise a problem that the mom usually brought up on the very next page of the book. At the end of the story I asked him what he thought of the story. His response: “This kid is entirely irresponsible!” 🙂 I couldn’t help it, I laughed out loud. My student sounded like a dour and stern adult who has lost patience with their kid whose mind is in the magical and wonderful clouds of the imagination – and this student is only 8 yrs old!

Teaching Diary: Cute Kid Story (12/10/2015)

[Originally published on 12 October 2015]

Teaching Diary – Cute Kid Story Alert! I was reading with one of my endlessly restless first graders today, one who has on a couple of occasions grabbed my arm and given me a little arm hug after I’ve walked him back to class. Today I experienced affection overload from this wee lad. While I was having him read he reached over and gave me a little arm hug. After the third one he said in his little child voice “I wuv you Dr. Welch!” (he has an Elmer Fudd voice, which is one of the reasons I am tutoring him!)
At this point I thought worriedly “Bloody hell, this kid has probably now completely attached himself to me and I’ll NEVER escape!” “Perhaps”, I thought, “his parents are brood parasites like the cuckoo bird and have laid an egg in my nest while I was gone, and now that I’ve returned I’ve got to raise their kid!” Then again, I might be overreacting…

Teaching Diary: Philosophy Club (3/10/2015)

[Originally published on 3 October 2015]

Teaching Diary. Kids say the funniest things:
During Philosophy Club this week I continued my theme of identity (last week it was the Ship of Theseus, this week it was brain swaps). After several minutes of discussing whether Jenny (who was pretty and popular) was the same person as Alma (who was smart and studious girl), one boy asked: “is Jenny more popular because she isn’t wearing a shirt?” (see the diagram I drew to start the discussion). Featured image

The kids and the parents couldn’t stop laughing at that comment. Luckily, we moved beyond that and moved into some good discussion as to what are the most important characteristics of selfhood (i.e. body, brain, personality). I even had a girl who had an identical twin, so her and her mum had a great time thinking through this scenario with her twin just a few feet away!

My popularity seems to be growing!
When I am walking down the hallway I am used to seeing the kids who visit my room wave at me or say ‘hi’ as they are moving with their class down the hallway to a new activity. But on a couple of occasions this week, kids who who I have never met have cheerfully said “Hello Dr. Welch!” And I say hello right back, and then when I turn the corner I pause as it hits me ‘Wait a second – I don’t even know that kid!’

On another day a kid wandered up to me and asked “Dr. Welch, how come you come and take [the name of a student in his class] to read with you, but you don’t come and take me for this fun reading? – I want to read with you too!” So I had to explain to this kid that I am very busy at the moment, but that one of my fellow Reading Corps friends might have him visit them, or that I might get to him, but it might take a few weeks.

I am always tired.
I am dealing with 18 kids each day, one-on-one. Which is quite tiring, as they each deserve my full attention, plus I am still getting to grips with all the prep work that is necessary or each day (for once the day starts, except for a brief lunch, I have no time between each kid – I help one kid for 20 minutes and as we leave my room, I am off to pick up the next, and I do this for all 18 kids). So when I finally get home at night, I desire to do…Absolutely Nothing. I am an introvert, so although I can very much enjoy interacting with people, it nonetheless really wears me down. So when school is over, I prefer to be alone. Until I can catch up with my prep time and try and adjust to all this constant face-to-face people interaction, I need my time to veg-out by myself.

Teaching Diary (28/9/2015)

[Originally published 28 September 2015]

Teaching Diary. The world of being a kid is so different from when I was 6-8 yrs old. Today I began meeting with the nearly 20 primary school kids I’ll be tutoring over the next few weeks. So today we chatted casually so that we could get to know each other. Here are some of the crazy problems I didn’t have to worry about until just a few years ago when I was in my late 30’s, but they’re concerned about now at roughly age 7!
1. A few plan to close down their YouTube channels because of the unpleasant environment they have to deal with.
2. One is having “serious issues” with T-Mobile, and is looking for a new mobile phone service provider.
3. Another is looking for a good iPad repair person at a decent price.
4. Another saw the netbook sitting on my desk and commented casually that theirs was more advanced than mine.

Bloody hell! When I was a kid our family had two phones, attached to the wall, with a 4 ft cord and a rotary dial, and the internet wasn’t going to be invented for another 15 years! It was a relief to learn that a few of the kids still watch Tom and Jerry, so we at least have one thing in common! On the other hand, only one kid so far knew about Doctor Who, so I think we can all agree that this is a significant sign of bad parenting, for if you are a REAL parent, you watch Doctor Who with your kid every single Saturday as well as every day in between. Seriously. Get your act together parents of small children! 😛

Teaching Diary: Philosophy for Kids (24/9/2015)

[Originally published on the 24 September 2015]

Teaching Diary: Reading to kids and Philosophy for Kids! 🙂
Today was an exhausting 12 1/2 hour day! Tonight was Family Library Night at my primary school. The first event of the evening was reading a story to a group of kids in the library.

Then it was time for me to introduce and facilitate my new ‘Philosophy Club’ for the first time! I first had a bunch of tiny kids looking at me with puzzlement after some parents/teachers shooed them in my direction and said “listen to what this philosopher guy has to say about something or other.” So they sat down not knowing who I was or why they were there (although there were a few kids of my co-workers who showed up because they seem to think I’m kinda cool).

I decided to talk about the infamous paradox of the ‘Ship of Theseus.’ This first group turned into pure chaos. After laying out the problem of one ship possibly turning into another (or does it remain the same ship?) I soon found myself helplessly watching them after they got a hold of my whiteboard marker and began drawing more ships on the whiteboard until there was an entire bloody fleet of them…which one of them was THE Ship of Theseus? I’ll be damned if I knew!

After 15 minutes a second group of kids magically appeared, and this time many of the parents remained to listen. This group didn’t have the obsession to use my whiteboard marker, but one girl kept asking “why are we asking all these questions?” She was in effect asking the question that some adults pose when they say “what’s the point of philosophy?” Her older sister tried to tell her that we were asking questions, and as we came up with answers we were then asked even more detailed and difficult questions, which over time gave us a greater understanding of the overall idea we were thinking about. The younger sister wasn’t impressed. So I think I lost one kid (although her other two sisters did seem to like this class, so they might drag her to Philosophy Club every week anyway).

Once we had covered the basics of the Ship of Theseus, some of the parents then got involved and began asking questions (since the questions I am asking are the same questions that philosophers have been asking and discussing for thousands of years and haven’t arrived at an answer, even adults want to get involved). I ended up talking with one parent for 45 minutes after my Philosophy Club ended.

Exhausting day but it looks like enough kids will show up to keep my class going every Thursday, and who knows, they may even tell their classmates and through word of mouth others might show up (that is how things worked when I was a university tutor).

Conversing with a Philosopher…

I have spent the last 6 1/2 years living in Scotland. During that period I was a Masters student, a PhD student, and then (briefly) a full time tutor. Moreover, I was doing this in a Philosophy department.  If there is one thing that happens in upper level academic environments like this (especially Philosophy), it is the need to constantly demand evidence and support for the statement(s) people you are conversing with have. You are trying to work out the different lines of reasoning behind their claims so that you can trace step-by-step the journey they are making from one point to another, and see if it all holds up. As you adjust to this environment (from Masters student, to PhD student, to full Academic), the conversational intensity and demands grow. At first this can be quite daunting – even off-putting – but after a while you acclimate yourself to this environment and sometimes you even come to enjoy the demanding give-and-take of a rigorous philosophical exchange, and look forward to a competitive head-to-head of critical reasoning.  Conversations with your colleagues and students are all based on this demanding requirement for an exchange of evidence and reasoning. The vast majority of my Scottish friends were academics, so that has been virtually all I’ve known for the last 6 1/2 years in a postgrad environment.

But now I’ve left Scotland and have returned to Minnesota (where I am currently not employed in academia), and virtually none of the people I know here are even remotely academic.  I have found in the few weeks I’ve been back, that my interactions with people can quickly be misunderstood, with the person I am conversing with thinking I am being confrontational with them (or that I’m being ‘a bit of a dick’).  They sometimes are taken aback and wonder why I am being ‘confrontational’. But this is not my intention at all, I simply want to understand the different threads of their thought and reasoning, and to work out how it all fits together within a larger framework (I want to see the fine points of their argument as well as the ‘big picture’).

Philosopher’s are naturally skeptical of claims that people make. So if you find yourself in conversation with a philosopher like myself, please don’t take personal offense to my questions. I am simply seeking clarity of thought, and I am used to the rigorous and forthright demands for evidence that one finds in a lively academic environment. I am not trying to ‘be a dick’, or trying to humiliate you, or find some creative ‘intellectual’ way to put you down and make you feel stupid. In fact, it is quite the opposite, for if I am spending a good deal of time with you, and asking you a lot of questions, then this is because I am very much interested in what you have to say and want to know more. My questioning  –  and the way I am going about doing it – is so that I can get hold of the best and strongest argument you have for your viewpoint. Instead of seeing me as wanting to tear your idea apart, think of me as trying to sort through your idea and bring forth your strongest position. As a philosopher I seek clarity, I have been training in this for over a dozen years (when you add together my undergraduate and postgraduate years of study). It is possible that I might not just come to understand what you are saying, but also that I might be able to help you draw out and clarify your position even further. Think of me as your conversational and intellectual ally and friend.

In the original Greek ‘Philosophy’ means ‘love of wisdom’, and I take that idea very seriously. I can never claim to be of the same calibre as Socrates, and yet I strive to follow in his footsteps in the way he drew is friends close to him and attempted acquire a greater understanding of concepts and ideas through extended dialogue and conversation. If there is one thing I’ve learned in my philosophical journey so far, it’s that a viewpoint can acquire a stronger foundation the more it is analyzed and assessed.  I know there are a lot of people who we converse with out there who are ‘dicks’ and love to take on the role of a troll and sabotage conversations, but a philosopher might just be your friend.

Before I end, there is one concern I have regarding this matter, and that is whether I can maintain the stricter and more demanding philosophical/academic approach I’ve acquired in analyzing ideas in conversation, with the expectation which the non-academic is familiar with. I hope this gap can be bridged, but does doing so mean the philosopher has to ‘lower’ their methods and approach, or can we expect to ‘raise’ the level of normal, everyday discourse?