By Richard Oram (with contributions by Paul Adderley)
‘Frontier’ is a term which means many things to many people. In straightforward political geography terms, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines a frontier as: ‘The part of a country which fronts, faces, or borders on another country; the marches’. It also offers a second definition, drawn from the United States, which describes ‘frontier’ as: ‘That part of a country which forms the border of its settled or inhabited regions’. In popular tradition, the ‘frontier’ is a place of heroism and danger: an exposed front line drawn between known and unknown territory; the boundary between civilisation and barbarity; or, quite simply, the dividing point between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Whether it is the physical frontier of the Roman limes, the abstract frontier of the current limits of knowledge, or the ‘Final Frontier’ of Science Fiction adventure, it is a term used to divide human experience into the quantified or quantifiable and the void beyond our current understanding. For archaeologists and historians, the term carries another layer of meaning with subtle internal gradations, from the anthropological notions of liminality and marginality to the socio-economic concept of frontiers as ‘contact zones of cultures’ in which ‘people of different cultures struggle with each other for control of resources and political power’. For environmental historians, the term carries another implication: the notion of a limit to the viable or sustainable pursuit of a specific exploitation regime. These three main definitions will provide the frame in which this present paper will attempt to explore the possible status of Innse Gall – the ‘Islands of the Foreigners’ – as a Norse frontier along the Atlantic and Irish Sea coasts of Britain.
Read the full article [NOTE: Opens as a pdf.]