Dr John Shafer
Member of the Department of English Studies, Member of the Institute of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Durham University.
Dr John Shafer is a postdoctoral student and instructor in the Department of English Studies, specialising in Medieval Icelandic sagas. He originally studied literature at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, receiving a BA in English Literature (and simultaneously a BSc in Mathematics) in 2004. He has studied at Durham since that time, initially pursuing a Master's degree in Middle English and Old Norse literature under the supervision of Prof John McKinnell (awarded January 2006) and subsequently a PhD in Old Norse under the supervision of Dr David Ashurst (awarded July 2010).
Dr Shafer's PhD thesis examines accounts of far-travel within Old Norse saga-literature. It analyses the perceived motivations of Scandinavian saga-characters who travel far from their Scandinavian homelands to regions at the conceptual "edges" of the Medieval world, as well as narrative patterns and motifs associated with far-travel. The thesis collates these motivations and patterns with other evidence of the Scandinavians' literary and moral geography of the world. Old Norse eddic and skaldic poetry and historiographical works, as well as some texts from related literatures (Latin-language historiography and hagiography, Old English geography, some Byzantine texts) provide context to the survey of this recurrent, widespread theme. The thesis can be accessed at http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/. An article-length survey of some of the main points of this analysis was delivered by Dr Shafer at the University of Nottingham's annual postgraduate Medieval Studies conference in 2009. The paper was published in the proceedings of that conference and may be accessed at www.nottingham.ac.uk/Medieval/Publications/NorthandSouth,EastandWest.aspx.
Dr Shafer is currently translating three short, previously untranslated sagas for publication by Durham's Institute of Medieval and Renaissance Studies and Toronto's Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies. His future research plans involve both short, article-length studies on individual problems relating to Medieval Scandinavian and Middle English literature and a long-term project tracing the life of certain Scandiavian popular narratives through early incarnations as Medieval sagas and later long narrative poems called "rímur" (such as were popular in Iceland from the Medieval period to the 19th century). Dr Shafer's other research interests include Renaissance and later drama in Britain and in Scandinavia, women's literature, and the possibilities of mathematical analysis of literary data sets.
Within the English department Dr Shafer teaches Medieval and Renaissance literature; modules in which he has led tutorials and/or seminars are the Heroic Age (Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse and Anglo-Norman literature in translation), Old Norse, Old English and Shakespeare. Dr Shafer has also given lectures on Old Norse within the department, in a public lecture series, and at the annual student conference of the Viking Society for Northern Research.
Former supervisors: Prof John McKinnell, Dr David Ashurst.