Left-wing academics want you to think the Vikings were multicultural. “[Vikings] were not homogeneous seafarers as is often imagined; they were multicultural and multiracial,” argued Brandeis University professor of medieval studies Dorothy Kim in a Time op-ed last week. She wanted to refute “white supremacist” claims of an “imaginary Viking past.”
Prof. Kim gives no examples of Viking multiculturalism or multiracialism—only a link to an article by academic Clare Downham, who claims the Vikings “were never the pure-bred master race” because they encountered various European groups. Indeed, the Vikings took Irish slaves, but that doesn’t make them multicultural.
Prof. Downham admits that Vikings had distinctive Scandinavian characteristics: Old Norse language, architecture, military tactics. However, she insists illogically that “these markers of identity were more about status and affiliation to long-range trading networks than ethnic symbols.”
Prof. Kim also downplays the Scandinavian origins of the Vikings. She defines the Norse raiders as “seafaring groups who traversed the seas . . . in the 10th and 11th centuries,” but doesn’t say where they came from. The Brandeis professor wants universities and Hollywood to fight back against the “historical white supremacist Viking genealogy.” She claims the most effective weapon against the “white supremacist narrative” is the movies based on the Thor comic books.
Thor: Ragnarok—in which Thor’s hammer, a medieval item regularly brandished by extremists, is destroyed—was a multiracial and postcolonial counternarrative to the white Viking narrative circulating through the alt-right digital ecosystem. After decades of building up the violent Viking vision, more such stories will be needed to disrupt this medieval machine.
In 2017, left-wing historian David Perry made a similar argument in the Washington Post: “The whole notion of a pure white Medieval Europe . . . is false” because the Vikings did not exist in “pure white racial isolation.” Prof. Perry at least admits the Vikings were predominately Scandinavian and most of their cross-cultural contact was conquest and colonization. Yet he believes pillaging and enslavement were part of a rich cultural exchange.
This exchange apparently included Muslims. After funeral robes containing what may have been Arabic inscriptions and Kufic script were discovered in Viking boat graves in 2017, Swedish archeologist Annika Larsson decided that Vikings got religious ideas from Islam. “Presumably, Viking Age burial customs were influenced by Islam and the idea of an eternal life in Paradise after death,” she said, dismissing the view that the robes were plunder.
The widely publicized discovery inspired other academics to promote multicultural theories. University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole wrote that “some Vikings were Muslims and Thor was brown.” He was brown because “Norse mythology is just a version of Indo-European mythology which is shared by Iran and India.” Prof. Cole claims Thor has Indian and Iranian equivalents, which makes him non-white. His specialty is the modern Middle East, not the Vikings, but he also claims Vikings had children with non-whites in Sicily and brought them home.
Other academics were skeptical of the Kufic/Arabic theory. University of Texas professor Stephanie Mulder, an expert on medieval Islamic art, claims the robe inscriptions contained “no Arabic at all” and Kufic script didn’t even exist in the Viking Age. Textile expert Carolyn Priest-Dorman said the view the funeral robes were Islamic is “unfounded.”
University of Pennsylvania Islamic history professor Paul Cobb said Miss Larsson’s conclusion was based on “fanciful readings that aren’t justified by the evidence.” “People want to see Arabic there, because it resonates today with a dream of a more inclusive Europe,” she told The Atlantic. “There’s a real desire to document that Vikings had interactions, not to mention intermarriages, with many non-Vikings.”
Popular entertainment has given us multicultural Vikings. The Thor movie series stars a black Heimdall, the Norse deity who was said to be “the whitest of all gods.” The main character of the Vikings TV series sleeps with a Chinese woman, and there are friendly relations between Norsemen and Muslims.
Some people want us to think the whole medieval period was muti-culti, and Prof. Kim has two forthcoming books to prove it: The Alt-Medieval: Digital Whiteness and Medieval Studies, and Decolonize the Middle Ages. In 2017, she sparked a controversy by demanding that all medievalists denounce white supremacy. “If the medieval past (globally) is being weaponized for the aims of extreme, violent supremacist groups, what are you doing, medievalists, in your classrooms?” Prof. Kim asked. “Because you are the authorities teaching medieval subjects in the classroom, you are, in fact, ideological arms dealers.”
“Medievalists need to take explicitly antiracist positions, and act in explicitly antiracist ways, in how they conduct themselves in the field,” she continued. “To do so is the only way to work against white supremacy. Protesting that you yourself are not a racist is useless and ignorant.”
There is a group called “Medievalists of Color” that wants more diversity and critical race theory in the field. The group’s founding statement muddily proclaims that “even, and especially, if we find that the scholarly paradigms of critical race and ethnic studies, postcolonialism, and decolonization do not speak fully to the historical moments we study, we are obligated to enter, and even expand, the conversations they engender.” A popular Twitter account “@medievalpoc” tries to show black and brown people were all over medieval Europe. Most of the evidence is swarthy people sometimes depicted in medieval artwork.
This movement is a reaction to white nationalism. Its leaders wish nationalists weren’t interested in medieval history. In the Washington Post, Rhode Island College English professor Brandon Hawk attacked the “medieval fantasies” supposedly shared by Russian theorist Alexander Dugin and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. According to Prof. Hawk, Prof. Dugin’s “view of the Roman Empire and medieval Europe exalts the triumphs of monolithic white, Christian nationalism.” He claims this is a “historical fabrication” because the Roman Empire and Middle Ages Europe were both “extremely diverse—racially and otherwise—because both included cultures beyond the limited scope of Western Europe.”
These academics even believe the Middle Ages should be off-limits to nationalists and conservatives. They are determined to keep out anyone who won’t make the historical evidence fit their theories. History is supposed to be an honest attempt to find out what happened in the past. These “historians” are deliberately distorting the past in order to control the present.