Clare Downham

Clare Downham lectures in history for the Institute of Irish Studies department at the University of Liverpool.

What initially sparked your interest in the Vikings?

I think it was probably Mr Butler, a history teacher at Brine Leas Comprehensive School who inspired an interest in Medieval History, aged 11. I vividly remember the Battle of Hastings being re-enacted in the class room with children making a Saxon shield wall stood on desks representing Senlac Hill. My Granny and parents were also formative influences as I got taken to  lots of castles as a child.

Which individuals, events or forces are especially important in your area of history?

I’m still trying to work that one out.

Which areas of your field most urgently need further exploration?

I think Irish medieval history before AD1171 could do with much more exploration. There is an abundance of source material but it is relatively neglected in European terms.

Which figure in history would you like to go back in time to meet and why?

l feel a lot safer studying famous medieval figures in a cosy library in the early 21st century. However, if I was given a time machine I’m sure I’d be tempted to play with it. I’d rather meet ordinary people and learn about their experiences e.g. in the streets of Viking York, rather than meeting VIPs – I think I’d learn more about the past that way.

What is your favourite book?

I guess because of the romantic idealism which runs through them, I'd have to say Tolstoy's War and Peace , 'Purgatory' from Dante's The Divine Comedy and  the anonymously authored Kormak's Saga. ■

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Publications

Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ívarr to A.D. 1014 (Dunedin Academic Press, 2008)