No Nazis in Valhalla: Understanding the Use (and Misuse) of Old Norse Imagery in Far-Right Political Movements Throughout History
Lena Nighswander is a third-year student at Bowling Green State University. She is originally from Toledo, Ohio and is currently double-majoring in English and German. In addition to serving as the Vice President of Sigma Tau Delta, she is involved with the Honors College as well as serving as an English Department Ambassador and CURS Ambassador. For the 2020 CURS Symposium, Lena completed a research project entitled “No Nazis in Valhalla: Understanding the Use (and Misuse) of Old Norse Imagery in Far-Right Political Movements Throughout History.”
9 Questions with Lena
In my research, there were actually several questions I tried to answer. First, what is it about the Vikings – or possibly Old Norse imagery as a whole – that is appealing to far-right political groups? Secondly, what can be done to rescue the true history of the Vikings from these groups? Finally, what does this growing correlation between the Vikings, fascism, and white supremacy mean for the future of the field of Viking and Medieval Norse Studies?
My project is actually kind of interesting in that I had initially started out with the intention to do the research in order to write an article that I had intended to eventually become a conference paper. The goal was for this paper to eventually get published, so I could add my take on these pressing issues to the discipline. For the project itself, I created a large bibliography and presentation on the many ways Nordic cultural markers, such as mythology or imagery, had been used by both Nazi and neo-Nazi groups in order to push a certain political agenda.
As an English and German double-major, I have always had an interest in the intersection between literature and history. Although it falls a little outside of my area of study here at BGSU, I also have a very keen interest in the field of Scandinavian Studies. I felt this project not only bridged the gap between these interests, but also explored a very important and modern issue in terms of cultural appropriation and political strategy.
Getting into this project, I knew a little about the stigma surrounding Old Norse imagery today. Despite this mythology belonging to an entire region of the world, there is definitely a strange association between Old Norse images and white supremacy today. What I didn’t realize before I had started in-depth research was exactly how pervasive this association is, considering the Nazis themselves used these images for their gain. I had wrongly assumed that the use of Norse imagery by these far-right groups, particularly in Europe, was a relatively recent development, but there’s actually a lot of really fascinating historical precedent for this.
Like a lot of other students, the COVID-19 situation really threw a wrench into my research plans. I had initially sought my grant to be able to visit the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Unfortunately, I was not able to go since my travel date fell the very first week of lockdown in March. Not being able to take this trip restricted my access to a lot of important resources I could have utilized there, but I was able to consult with my faculty mentor and other professors to find many new books to check out for my research. I hope to be able to make the trip someday once the global situation gets a little better.
The most important thing I believe I learned from my CURS project was that I am capable of taking on a project this size by myself. While I had written many papers before, I had never even gotten in the realm of something this big. My final article ended up being around 26 pages long, and its completion really cemented the idea for me that I want to continue undertaking research projects like this in the future.
Receiving a grant from CURS and having the ability to pursue a project a little outside of my home disciplines here at BGSU gave me a unique chance to actually explore my interests and undertake a project I am passionate about that might not fit neatly into the English-German box. I was also able to receive my very first scholarly publication of my article, No Nazis in Valhalla: Understanding the Use (and Misuse) of Nordic Cultural Markers in Third Reich Era Germany, in the International ResearchScape Journal.
My advice for future CURS scholars would be to just take the chance and apply. I know research often has a very stuffy connotation and I was a little doubtful that I, as a humanities major, could even get funding, but I was able to. CURS is so supportive of our projects, no matter how out of the box they might seem, and it’s so worth it to just apply, even if you’re not 100% sure what you want to do.
Although I spend a lot of time on my academics, I’m actually a pretty avid hockey fan. I’ve travelled to several different states to see NHL games, and I even collect hockey jerseys. As of right now, I have 14 different jerseys! It’s a really big part of my life and I’m always happy to chat about it.
"Receiving a grant from CURS and having the ability to pursue a project a little outside of my home disciplines here at BGSU gave me a unique chance to actually explore my interests".
Updated: 03/07/2021 05:07PM