Vinland and wishful thinking: Medieval and modem fantasies

Sverrir Jakobsson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


This article discusses the evidence for the journeys of several Norsemen to a place called Vinland around the year 1000. In hindsight, the stories of the unsuccessful attempt to settle Vinland have been enduringly linked to the consequent discoveries of the American continents, which occurredfive centuries later. However, as there are no contemporary, or near-contemporary, written records of journeys to Vinland and the nearby islands, all reconstructions of those events spring from later texts, some of them written down 300 years or more after the fact. Yet what may, or may not, have happened has gradually been granted the status of a real event. Reevaluating the wishful reality of the Vinland islands requires that the stories of the Vinland journeys be squarely situated in the context of the world geographic system adopted by those who told those stories. This article examines how information about the newly encountered lands intersected with the dominant system of defining and classifying knowledge. It thus sheds light on the worldview, now obsolete, in which that system was embedded. A careful dissection of the narrative of the Vinlandjourneys makes it possible to understand the morphology of this worldview, its epistemic underpinnings, and the spell it continues to cast on the Western imagination.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)493-514
Number of pages22
JournalCanadian Journal of History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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