The Society was founded in 1968 in Edinburgh by a group of people with a shared interest in the links between Scotland and its northern neighbours.
Initially intended to be a Scottish offshoot of the London-based Viking Society, it quickly developed a broader agenda, encompassing a wider range of interests. This multidisciplinary approach has been one of the main features of the Society’s activities.
Its first president was (later Professor) Ted Cowan and, since then, a number of prominent academics from a variety of disciplines have held the post. But the Society has always welcomed members from non-academic backgrounds as well as from many different countries.
An annual day conference, which includes the Society’s AGM, is held in November, usually in Edinburgh. Since 2005, it has included a lecture in memory of Hermann Pálsson, late Professor of Old Icelandic Literature at the University of Edinburgh.
These lectures – by prominent scholars from Iceland, Norway, Denmark, as well as the UK – have covered a wide field of scholarship, including history, archaeology, literature, music, and material culture.
The first ‘visiting’ conference went to Orkney in 1973 and set a pattern of involving local people and combining field trips with lectures. These conferences have been organised in numerous Scottish locations, as well as Cumbria, the Isle of Man, York, and the Åland Islands. Conferences have also been held in conjunction with academic institutions and societies with similar interests.
The Society has published fourteen books, often including papers given at conferences, from Scandinavian Shetland in 1978 to Traversing the Inner Seas in 2017. Those publications now out of print have been made available digitally on the Society’s website.
The Society’s has also produced its journal, Northern Studies, since 1972, with volume 50 released in 2019. It is peer-reviewed and includes a wide range of articles and relevant book reviews. All but the latest volumes are available on the website.
It has always been an aim of the Society to encourage students, and this has been achieved in several ways, including travel bursaries for conferences and an annual essay prize named after Magnus Magnusson, the writer, broadcaster, and former member. The winning essay is published in Northern Studies.
Membership of the Society is open to all, and participation by anyone interested in Scotland and its neighbours is welcomed and encouraged.
The Constitution of the Society may be found here.
Become a Member
Membership is open to all, and new subscriptions are very welcome. Benefits include discounts on conference fees and publications, free copies of our peer-reviewed journal, Northern Studies, and opportunities to apply for student travel bursaries to attend conferences.