David Winter, 2018

I can’t begin to convey the feeling of hopping between the tussocks and breathing in the scent of a hundred different heathland flowers, while skuas screech and ravens wheel in the leaden sky above. The experience is particularly moving after you’ve spent the morning ruminating about the families that homesteaded the region between the 18th and early 20th centuries. Yet, this is Svartárkot, a hands-on field school on the environmental humanities run by scholars and farmers in the ecologically vital Mývatn region, at the edge of Iceland´s brooding central highlands. The entire course is knowledgeably managed by Viðar Hreinsson and a team of local and international experts (including environmental scholars, archaeologists, as well as ranchers and farmers). It unites their scholarly expertise with a lifetime´s experience of the landscape and culture. So, while the course is well choreographed to ensure that participants get the most out of their two-week stay at the cozy Kiðagil guesthouse–with an abundance of insightful lectures and seminars, and exceptional hospitality–it is also spontaneous enough that we found ourselves, for example, making traditional lichen soup when we chanced upon a large patch of lófa, and eating berries and angelica off the hillsides during our many hikes through the achingly beautiful Bárðardalur valley. It´s hard to express how exciting it is to explore a long abandoned shieling or the remains of a medieval mead hall, after hearing an expert lecture knowledgeably about the site that morning. As an historian who is increasingly interested in the Icelandic past, this was a unique and invaluable experience. It continues to resonate and reshape my interests and priorities long after I have left the valley. I hope that I one day get to return!

Sarah Bezan, 2018

“My time at the Svartarkot Nature-Culture course completely reformed my approach to, and practice of, interdisciplinary methodologies. As an early career scholar with a background in literary studies, I came to this course with a desire to think beyond the traditional frameworks of my field of study. What I discovered was an immersive learning experience. By ambling through woodland forests, basking in the mists of waterfalls, and climbing through the beautiful Bárðardalur valley, we set the terms for conducting research that went well beyond the page. Our foray into literary studies, geology, (zoo)archaeology, agriculture, economics, biology, and local and family histories opened up our eyes to a holistic view of living in and responding to the environment. Since the course, I have begun to practice interdisciplinary methods in my research. Instead of limiting my work to contemporary literary texts, I have expanded the breadth of my analysis to include travel diaries, zoological archives, visual art (photography, digital representations of data, and painting), museological analysis, field work, and interviews. As a result, my thinking and analysis about the intersection of literature into other fields has led to far more interesting observations than would have been possible with traditional frameworks. Above and beyond the learning experiences, I met lifelong friends in this course who continue to inspire me. While academia often results in a daily grind that takes its toll on our mental and emotional faculties, this course offered us an opportunity to slow down, breathe, think, and reflect. I would highly recommend this course to anyone who needs to hit the reset button on their academic journey, or to those seeking a reprieve, however momentary, from life behind a computer desk.”

Trycia Bazinet, 2018

I joined the Svartárkot course to learn more about the different approaches to study human and lake relationships. What I found most impressive is that the scholars that we got to learn from know and have relations to the the land and the places that we visited and worked with, which is very atypical for the academy altogether. My breath was taken away by many of the landscapes, but if we had visited them alone, without learning the context and the stories attached to these places, it would have been a completely different experience. All of our senses, as well as our intellect, were both challenged and nurtured. This interactive summer school, even though relatively short in time, leaves you with lifelong connections and memories, as well as a renewed desire for active and place-based scholarship. Vidar and his team, including the hosts, were amazing and I feel lucky to have learned from them directly. I would do it again!

Wendi Coleman, 2018

Overall, I had an amazing experience at Svartákot, a program which brings about a true meeting of interdisciplinary specialists and experts passionate about the Mývatn region in Iceland to discuss important issues about the environment of the region and how it has changed over time. The course included many disciplines, such as economists and literary scholars that provided unique perspectives to the conversations. These discussions are even more important as humans continue to interact with and change the environment around them. As a master’s student in an anthropology program focusing on archaeology, this program was extremely instrumental in not only providing in-depth information about this region, but in providing space to discuss how the framing of the environment both in the past and present can impact the directions of the research and the understanding of a changing climate by the public. Interacting with the environment and sites on excursions also allowed me to better understand the topic in a way that just a classroom setting would not allow. The region was beautiful and included some of the most awe-inspiring vistas to be seen. However, my favorite thing about the program were the amazing and long-lasting connections that were created between the amazing instructors and participants.

Sarah Norton, 2015

“When I first heard about the Svartárkot program, I was so intrigued. The depth and breadth of the knowledge that was offered assured me it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As a PhD student in the field of depth psychology (looking into the unconscious aspects of climate change) I was not sure how any of this would directly influence my dissertation work or that I would find a place within the program. However, I decided I would take a chance and apply. To my delight I was accepted and I could not have been more pleasantly surprised as the program began to unfold! Each day offered a new and enlightening journey into realms of literature, environmental science, archeology, the Icelandic culture and landscapes, and so much more. The various interdisciplinary lesson plans were invaluable to my research and I find myself reflecting on the many field trips, walks, and excursions as my PhD writing progresses. The only thing more lovely than the natural vistas that surrounded our daily learning were the people leading us on these academic discoveries. It is a time I will carry with me not only in my studies but as a potent life experience.”

Michael Snipes, 2018

I came to Svartarkot as a bit of an outsider: I am an economist and my entire background is in economics. But I had always had an interest in Iceland and was starting to toy with some research ideas with respect to Iceland but was having a little trouble getting grounded. I had written about tourism and the environment, but that never really went anywhere. Svartarkot opened a whole new way of thinking about things for me. The different subjects and different ways of looking at things gave me a fresh perspective on my research. I am currently drafting a paper that I am very excited about, and it uses many of the readings and ideas that I would not have come across without Svartarkot! This is a great event for anyone looking for a small group of intellectually curious people interested in Iceland. Staying outside of the capital in the countryside, studying and exploring the region with expert locals, and receiving lectures from amazing teachers gives one the chance to experience the “real Iceland”. Plus you get to see parts of the country where no tourists tread, which is a wonderful treat!

Elizabeth Walden, 2015

“I participated in the 2015 course, which provided a “deep dive” into the culture and nature of Iceland within a global environmental and historical context. The course gave me a great appreciation for the specificity of that amazing place, grounded within an interdisciplinary framework drawing upon Anthropology, Literary Studies, Climate Science and more. The course was instrumental in developing Environmental Humanities at my home university and sharpened my thinking about place in my own writing. I think fondly of the friendships I made there, the wonderful food, the fresh air and the happy sheep.”

Liz Gladin, 2018

I attended Svartárkot in August 2018. It felt like entering the unknown as the diverse fields and activities on the schedule were in many ways out of my academic comfort zone. However, after the full Svartárkot immersion therapy in history, literature, archaeology, climate science, communications, the Icelandic environment in all weathers, and so much more, I have to say that I have never before learned so much in such a small window of time. The course, the tutors and the location are all intense and engaging, and the closeness of working, living, doing with a group of like-minded but at the same time diverse people was a very precious experience.

Parker Krieg, 2014

I attended the summer 2014 seminar on Environmental Memory and Change in Medieval Iceland. It was during the last summer of writing a dissertation on contemporary US literature, economy, and ecocriticism. So it might seem like the least opportune moment for delving into the Icelandic sagas and visiting their sites! However, participating in this seminar breathed new life into my project and, more importantly, what I thought was possible in the environmental humanities. Svartarkot offers a kind of living example of the long history of social and ecological interaction in a single place. And brings together some incredible people. The visiting archaeologists, anthropologists, and climate historians illustrated the effects of long-range economies connecting Iceland to the wider world. While the course theme–environmental memory–brought together leading ecocritics to “think out loud” about the role of material environments within and across multiple scales of cultural experience. It changed how I study contemporary literature, and allowed me to connect to an inspiring network of researchers who are transforming the humanities in a time of intense environmental change.

Svartárkot Nature-Culture Svartárkot, 645 Fosshóli

+354 844 8645 – vidar@svartarkot.is

+354 895 4742 – gudrunhlini@gmail.com