Adrian studied a BA and an MA in Classics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. And while he had long been interested in the Northern European premodernity, it was the discovery of Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum – by medieval English scholar Bede – that encouraged a greater interest in church history and the premodern period.
By the time Adrian had concluded his MA, he had translated the first and fourth books of Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum (The Deeds of the Bishops of Hamburg), an 11th century work by Adam of Bremen about the Christianisation of Scandinavia.
Understanding Scandinavian narratives of the Middles Ages
This year, as part of his PhD in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic, he begins a new project to investigate how Swedish historians of the Middle Ages wrote and rewrote the ecclesiastical history of the nation, and how that writing process “reflects the shaping of their cultural and religious self-understanding”.
As part of the project, he aims to make more translations available to encourage further research:
“I think that the translations of some premodern texts will be a byproduct of my research," says Adrian, "so I hope I can find a way to have them published so that people, other than specialists, are able to approach them. There are some fascinating and, honestly, entertaining texts that cannot be read if you don’t know Latin, Old Norse or Old Swedish, so we’re really hoping to change that.
“I also hope I’m able to keep teaching these topics in Mexico and other parts of the Spanish-speaking world. There’s a lot of interest in Vikings and Scandinavia but, sadly, not many experts. I earnestly wish to promote them more in an enticing way so that more people want to study and research this area.”
You can read the full interview with Adrian – about the details of his research and his hunt for someone to jam with at Wolfson – below:
What’s the main objective of your research?
My PhD project aims to investigate how Swedish historians wrote and rewrote the ecclesiastical history of their nation during the late Middle Ages and how that writing process reflects the shaping of their cultural and religious self-understanding. In other words, I am researching how Swedish historians from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries read and reshaped the narratives of the Christianisation after the official Conversion of Sweden so that they fit their understanding of the nation’s religious history.
History was mainly transmitted orally and its written form in Sweden started quite late –around the second half of the eleventh century– but by then, several authors from other nations had already written about them and their Christianisation; so, when they adopted [Latin] literacy, they didn’t hesitate to rewrite how things had happened from their own perspective.
It’s also interesting to note that they didn’t seem particularly proud of their Viking and pre-Christian past, and perhaps the shame they felt toward it was an incentive to embrace Christianity. Considering this, my main research questions are the following: Did cultural shame or embarrassment trigger religious change, and is this reflected in the sources? What role did the development of literacy play in the creation of a distinct Swedish Christian identity? What’s the attitude of Christian Swedish writers towards their pre-Christian past and towards the writers who recorded it? To what extent and in what aspects does the Swedish tradition differ from previous or narratives of the Conversion? The corpus of works from this period is not huge so I will probably have to read every source which is really exciting!
What contribution do you hope to make with your work?
In particular, I believe that the project might help to understand the Christianisation of Scandinavia from a cultural point of view. A lot of the existing scholarship around the process has mostly focused on its political aspects – which missionary was the first to preach in Scandinavia or which king was the first to convert their land has been widely discussed but I’ll try to analyse it from the perspective of cultural and literary impact.
In a more general sense, I think that the translations of some premodern texts (or passages thereof) that remain untranslated will be a byproduct of my research, so I hope I can find a way to have them published so that people, other than specialists, are able to approach them. There are some fascinating and, honestly, entertaining texts that cannot be read if you don’t know Latin, Old Norse or Old Swedish, so we’re really hoping to change that in the future.
I also hope I’m able to keep teaching these topics in Mexico and other parts of the Spanish-speaking world. There’s a lot of interest in Vikings and Scandinavia but, sadly, not many experts. I earnestly wish to promote them more in an enticing way so that more people want to study and research this area!
What made you choose Wolfson and what do you like about the College?
I didn’t know much about the college system because the universities back home don’t have anything like it but Wolfson chose me! Although I couldn’t get to Cambridge due to funding issues the first time I received an offer, Wolfson kept in touch and offered me a place the second time!
Everyone at Wolfson has been friendly and extremely helpful at all times. In all honesty, I like everything about the college! The gardens are lovely, the accommodation is spacious, and the library is great. That’s probably my favourite building. It’s collection of classics is very good and the loan system is user-friendly.
The college is diverse and its atmosphere is very relaxed. I feel as though this is the perfect college for me! I still have a lot of things to discover because I’ve been here for a short time, and I’m really looking forward to see what’s in store!
What other interests do you have outside of your academic work?
I love music! I’ve been playing guitar and drums since I was seven, and worked a for a while as a session musician and drum technician back in Mexico. I am now a bedroom musician since academia takes most of my time, but perhaps I’ll be able to find some people with whom to form a band here in Wolfson?
I usually play metal or punk rock, but I’ve recently been very interested in composing versions of pop songs and also of videogame music tracks. In fact, gaming is another of my passions! I like to think of videogames as a visual work of literature, so I read them very carefully and may spend a long time completing one. In terms of sports, I really like archery. I practiced it during my undergraduate years and I’m hoping to join the Cambridge University Bowmen soon.
Could you name one book that has made the biggest impact on you and why?
Without a doubt, Adam of Bremen’s book Deeds of the Bishops of Hamburg. Reading that text really determined what I wanted to do with my career and shifted my research interests towards Scandinavia. The title might not sound very appealing, but the text is beautifully composed and the information it contains is not only invaluable but also fun to read in many passages.
For example, in one of the chapters of its last book, Adam narrates a story of a group of Frisian mariners that travel north to see what hidden secrets they can find and they arrive to the source of all the world’s water, and after being nearly devoured by the vortex, they discover an island inhabited by a cyclops that chases them away!
And, by the way, it is the first known text to mention a Norse settlement in Vinland, which has been identified as Newfoundland, in Canada, and to include a description of the golden temple at Uppsala in Sweden, where Thor, Odin and Frey were worshipped. This text is one of the reasons I’m now working on my PhD, so I’d recommend it to anyone interested in premodern Scandinavia.