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In Search of First Contact

Pursuing the Vikings of Vinland from the Sagas to the Kensington Stone

Professor Kolodny shares the compelling results of twelve years of research about the medieval Vikings in North America. Her latest book, In Search of First Contact: The Vikings of Vinland, the Peoples of the Dawnland, and the Anglo-American Anxiety of Discovery, offers a radically new interpretation of two medieval Icelandic tales, known as the Vinland sagas, and their impact on U.S. literature and culture.

In Search of First Contact is a monumental achievement by Annette Kolodny, an internationally influential literary critic. In this book, she offers a radically new interpretation of the Vinland sagas. She contends that they are the first known European narratives about contact with North America. After carefully explaining the evidence for that conclusion, Kolodny examines what happened after 1837, when English translations of the two sagas became widely available and enormously popular in the United States. She assesses their impact on literature, immigration policy, and concepts of masculinity.

Kolodny considers what the sagas reveal about the Native peoples encountered by the Norse in Vinland around the year A.D. 1000, and she recovers Native American stories of first contacts with Europeans, including one that has never before been shared outside of Native communities. These stories contradict the dominant narrative of "first contact" between Europeans and the New World. Kolodny rethinks the lingering power of a mythic American Viking heritage and the long-standing debate over whether Leif Eiriksson or Christopher Columbus should be credited as the first discoverer. With this paradigm-shattering work, Kolodny shows what literary criticism can bring to historical and social scientific endeavors.

Special Collections at the University of Arizona is home to Kolodny’s extensive archive documenting her professional career from 1970 to the present. Included in the archive are teaching materials from various universities, correspondence, speeches, presentations, research, drafts, manuscripts and publications, as well as legal documents relating to Kolodny’s involvement in a sexual and religious discrimination suit, one of the earliest Title VII suits.

Kolodny is the author of Failing the Future: A Dean Looks at Higher Education in the Twenty-first Century and the editor of The Life and Traditions of the Red Man, by Joseph Nicolar, both also published by Duke University Press. In addition, she is the author of The Land Before Her: Fantasy and Experience of the American Frontiers, 1630–1860, and The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters.

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