Viking project aims to get everyone involved

World-Tree Project aims to assemble world’s biggest digital archive of Norse culture

Do you happen to have any Viking-related material lying around the house? Maybe a helmet or two, or a sword or dagger? Perhaps there’s a longboat buried in your garden. If so, or even if you have something a lot less dramatic to offer, you should get in touch with the World-Tree Project, which is being launched today by UCC’s school of English with the objective of creating the world’s largest online archive for the teaching and study of Norse and Viking cultures.

This is the first attempt to crowdsource material on the subject from across the globe, according to Dr Tom Birkett, the principal investigator, who is seeking the public's help in developing an interactive digital archive for the teaching and study of Norse and Viking cultures. "We don't necessarily know what we're going to get," he says.

Crowdsourcing has been used successfully in recent years to create educational resources, such as the collective transcription of the “Letters of 1916” project. But since the heyday of Viking influence in Ireland was more than a millennium ago, it’s a rather different process from checking the attic for Grandad’s old letters, acknowledges Dr Birkett, who previously worked on a similar project at Oxford University about the Anglo-Saxons.

Triangulated material

Funded by the


Irish Research Council

, the World-Tree Project invites the public to submit everything from a translation of Norse poetry to a film of a Viking re-enactment or an original artwork. “We’re trying to triangulate the material,” says Dr Birkett about the vast amount of content he expects to receive from around the world.

“There are lots of different ways in which people react to Vikings. Within the UK, there are huge cultural differences in how Vikings are seen.”

He points out that Dublin has a more pronounced sense of its Norse roots than does Cork, possibly because the capital has seen more dramatic archaeological discoveries.

In Ireland, he says, Vikings were once seen as mere precursors of the Normans, and part therefore of a grim narrative of national invasion. But that simplistic story has been interrogated and dismantled. “There’s much more positivity towards Vikings now, and greater interest in their explorations and their culture.”

Metal-detector enthusiasts

These days, Vikings are the subject of big-budget TV dramas and blockbuster exhibitions.

“Museums have got better at conveying their history, and new excavations have revealed new information about their lives,” Dr Birkett says. Over the next months, he and his team will be making contact with re-enactment groups, heritage societies and metal-detector enthusiasts. “It works better if we can get in touch with the right people and the right groups through local libraries and schools,” he says.

While the initial focus of the project is on Ireland, the UK and Scandinavia, Vikings left their mark on a vast stretch of the world, from North America to the shores of the Black Sea. There’s Viking graffiti in Istanbul, says Dr Birkett. “It’s hard to bring it all together physically, which is why a digital archive makes such sense.”

As the collection grows, it will be curated by researchers at UCC and developed into a series of exhibitions accessible to everyone. You can follow its progress and contribute items at

Hugh Linehan

Hugh Linehan

Hugh Linehan is an Irish Times writer and Duty Editor. He also presents the weekly Inside Politics podcast