Runic research in Uppsala receives support from USA

Over the course of many years, Swedish-American Myrna G. Smith has supported runic research at Uppsala University. Now she has pledged a legacy of USD 1.5 million to ensure and advance future runic research at the University. With additional funding of SEK 5 million from Uppsala University, this donation will strengthen the future research environment for runology and language history at the Department of Scandinavian Languages in Uppsala.

Myrna G. Smith is from Minnesota, but her roots lie in Skåne. She is a member of the board of the American Association for Runic Studies, an organisation in the United States founded to promote education and research on runes and runestones in the United States and Europe.

Myrna G. Smith

There is great interest in runes and runic research in the United States. Many Swedish-Americans are curious about their history. There are nearly 7,000 known runestones and other runic inscriptions in the world, including some 100 in the United States. None of the runic objects in the United States are from the Viking Age; they were all engraved later, after an interest in runes arose in the 19th century.

“Uppsala University is the world leader in runic research, largely thanks to the preeminent runologist Professor Henrik Williams at the Department of Scandinavian Languages and his colleagues. As a Swedish-American, I am proud of my Scandinavian cultural heritage and want to support runic research and contribute to its development in the future,” says Myrna G. Smith.

Ensuring excellence and breadth

The donation of USD 1.5 million will be paid to the organisation American Friends of Uppsala University (AFUU). To ensure continuity in runic research at Uppsala University, AFUU has entered into an agreement with Uppsala that the University will make an additional contribution of SEK 5 million. The University’s contribution will be disbursed over a period of four years beginning in 2021.

“Obviously, we are very pleased and grateful for this significant contribution to the Department,” says David Håkansson, head of the Department of Scandinavian Languages. “It will guarantee Uppsala University’s excellence and breadth in runology and language history. This significantly reinforces our research environment in the language history area – a classic field of research that not only enhances our knowledge of how language has changed over the years but is also of great importance for our understanding of the past. Moreover, the history of language helps us to understand the present-day linguistic landscape, making vital contributions to theoretical and methodological advances in linguistics.”

Combining tradition with modern perspectives

Henrik Williams. Photo: Stewen Quigley

Runologist Henrik Williams is Professor of Scandinavian Languages at Uppsala University and during the spring his professorship will be converted into a chair in runology. His research combines the established research tradition with modern linguistic perspectives. Apart from interpreting runic inscriptions, he seeks to add a social dimension to our understanding of the words. How did people live and think a thousand years ago?

“We try to extract a message from runic texts that appear meagre at first sight. Runes intrigue us and entice us to try to understand the people and society of that time – and they also help us to see our own time from another perspective,” says Henrik Williams.

Anna Malmberg

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