Institute of English Languages and Literatures

Scandinavian Studies



Vikings, shieldmaidens, beserkers, Valkyries, runes, and trolls – when we think of medieval Scandinavia these are the images that first come to mind, in large part because they are the stereotypes advanced by popular culture. While each of these figures undoubtedly has its roots in Nordic literature and culture, the images we all know nonetheless only represent a small fraction (and a distorted one at that) of the wide range of meanings and contexts which these phenomena possess.

Old Norse Studies (or Medieval Scandinavian Studies) concerns itself with these and countless other manifestations of pre-modern Scandinavia and approaches them from a wide variety of literary and cultural studies perspectives. The topics we explore in research and teaching range from manuscript and literature production to concepts such as belonging, heroism, ethnicity, gender, Othering, the paranormal and story-worlds to literary aspects such as the narrator, narrative aesthetics, and poetic imagery  – and this is not an exhaustive list.

As medieval Scandinavia interacted with other medieval cultures on a variety of levels, there are excellent opportunities to connect to many other medieval fields of study and departments, such as medieval English, medieval Archaeology, German Medieval Studies, or historical Religious Studies, which offer opportunities for exciting and productive interdisciplinary work. 

Scandinavian Studies at Tübingen

At the University of Tübingen we offer Scandinavian Studies as a Bachelor minor degree, With a Focus on Medieval Studies.

Regarding staffing, Scandinavian Studies is considered one of the smaller subjects at the University of Tübingen. Due to this smaller size our students can reach out to and get in contact with the lecturers quickly and easily, which creates a very supportive learning environment. Additionally, our courses are research oriented, in their content as well as in their approaches and discussions, which means students are encouraged from the very beginning of their studies to engage with both primary and secondary literature.

The Scandinavian Studies department has a permanent teaching assignment in Norwegian and Swedish. Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish are taught as weekly 4-hour intensive language courses, which contain grammatic, semantic, cultural, and practical speaking components. In the advanced language courses a high emphasis is also placed on current newspapers and modern Scandinavian literature. Practicing the language as well as gaining intercultural competency can also be achieved through exchanges abroad. Various cooperations with Scandinavian universities allow our students to undertake an ERASMUS stay of up to two semesters at universities in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland.

The department's research focuses predominantly on the medieval literature of Scandinavia, especially from a narratological and cultural studies perspective. There is a particularly close cooperation with German Medieval Studies, medieval Archaeology, as well as with English Studies and Religious Studies. Scandinavian Studies at Tübingen also specifically incorporates elements of medieval English literatures, especially Old English literature, into its modules. This makes the department unique within the German academic environment and broadens the academic knowledge of our students.

Subject History and Background

In the 19th century, the study of Nordic language and literature fell under the purview German Studies. As their focus was primarily on the origin and history of the German language, it was exclusively medieval Scandinavian sources which were studied as, at the time, Nordic philology was part of German Medieval Studies. Today the focus of the subject at most universities has shifted towards the literature and culture of modern Scandinavia. The most commonly used term for the subject, "Scandinavian Studies", also incorporates this modern aspect. During the 20th century, Scandinavian Studies began to establish itself as an independent subject, however, as a consequence of increased academic specialisation.

Although Scandinavian Studies is technically one of the "smaller subjects" or "orchid subjects" at the University, in terms of its position at the university and the number of its employees and students, it is nonetheless a large subject in terms of its content and reach. This includes several sub-areas:

●   Literary studies, which divides itself into the study of older, i.e. medieval, literature and modern literature.
●   Linguistics, which concerns itself with Scnadinavian languages both diachronically and synchronously.
●    Cultural studies, a field gaining importance, which takes on general questions regarding history, society, politics, eocnomy, and culture.

With the term "Scandinavia" we refer to the regions of Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, as well as to the Swedish-speaking areas of Finland. In this understanding, the philological background of the subject is clearly noticeable. Only at the larger institutes of Scandinavian Studies in Germany can the contemporary Scandinavian definition of "the North" be considered and also include Finland and, in some cases, the Baltic Region.