Sunday, December 06, 2009

Scholar to work medieval whales in Wales

Dr Vicki Szabo associate professor of history at Western Carolina University was recently awarded a Fulbright Fellowship based at the School of History and Archeology, Cardiff University. Vicki will be in Cardiff for four months working with Jacqui Mulville to continue creating a database for the identification of whale species from artifacts and examine historical whale-hunting patterns. Brill publishing house recently released Szabo’s book Monstrous Fishes and the Mead-Dark Sea: Whaling in the Medieval North Atlantic, which explores the perception, use and significance of whales during the Middle Ages.

Szabo will pursue her research interests at Cardiff University in Wales this autumn among faculty and students interested in ancient history, archaeology and conservation, and Welsh history. She has worked on medieval whaling and related archaeology of medieval whaling since 1995, and her current research began in 2000. “I’m studying modern whale skeletons, creating an analytical database using photographs, measurements and DNA, and hopefully producing a tool to identify which whales were hunted in the Middle Ages,” said Szabo.

Currently, no easy method of matching whale bone artifacts to whale species exists, said Szabo. “My research colleague – Jacqui Mulville, senior lecturer in bioarchaeology at Cardiff University – and I will work with biologists, geneticists and whale specialists and collect data to create a database that will allow us to identify whale species from whale bone artifacts,” she said. “Once we can do that, we can study artifacts from sites and figure out which types of whales they were using, whether there were patterns in the whales being hunted, and maybe even begin to reconstruct premodern whale populations, something zoologists cannot yet effectively do.”

Although Szabo has traveled to Britain, Wales will be a new experience, she said. “I teach early British history at WCU, so being in Wales will add a new dimension to that. I’ll get to visit sites that I teach about, learn new sources and come to understand Welsh culture, at least a little,” said Szabo. “I’m most excited that I’ll learn new research methods for both environmental history and medieval archaeology, which will be a great aid in the classes, and for graduate instruction. Hopefully, I’ll also come back with new contacts, so I can help students research and study abroad more effectively.”

Last year, interview Vicki Szabo about her book Monstrous Fishes and the Mead-Dark Sea: Whaling in the Medieval North Atlantic. Click here to read that interview.