This week was our first study tour with our core courses. Each class spends three days in another location in Sweden. My literature core course was in Uppsala, focusing on the theme of constructing national narratives and how that contributes to the process of othering. We had a very busy week, so I’ll do my best to describe the most important parts.
Our first stop was actually in Stockholm, out on the archipelago. The museum–aptly named Artipelag–is primarily an outdoor art instillation. Our guided tour was primarily outside, and we ended up trudging through quite a bit of snow to get close to some of the art. It was fascinating to see how the environment changed the interpretation of the art. One piece, a young boy in a swimsuit, looked entirely different up to his ankles in snow than he would in the summer, while the sculpture of the giant baby in a snowsuit had the exact opposite effect.
Even more stunning than the artwork, though, was the landscape of the archipelago itself. The trees were the most vibrant shade of green I’ve ever seen, and from the roof of the museum we had a gorgeous view of the water. This is definitely a place I’m looking forward to seeing again in the spring.
Thursday: Gamla Uppsala and the Cathedral
On Thursday, we traveled to Uppsala, a town just north of Stockholm. Now, Uppsala is mostly considered a student town, as the University has over 40,000 students. However, it is also a very old town with a lot of history important to understanding Sweden and Swedish culture as they’ve been constructed.
Our first stop was Gamla Uppsala, the old town about 4 miles from the modern city of Uppsala (although this transition was made in the 13th century). We visited the highlights of the area, specifically the pre-Viking age burial mounds and the 12th century church. It was fascinating to see the history, knowing that people had been living in that exact spot for over 1400 years.
After Gamla Uppsala, we headed into the city to tour the cathedral. It is the tallest church in Scandinavia–over 389 feet (118 meters). Most of the building dates back to the 13th century, but parts were reconstructed in the 18th and 19th centuries after they were destroyed in a fire. The cathedral also houses the tombs of famous figures like St Erik, Gustav Vasa, and Carl Linnaeus.
That evening, we had a creative writing workshop to reflect on the position of people in these medieval Christian worldviews. We each had to delve into how humans were othered in comparison to other tiers of being like God, angels, animals, and others.
Friday: Gustavianum and Art Museum
The next day, we began by touring the oldest building in the oldest university in Scandinavia, founded in 1477. The museum contains artifacts related to the history of the college, such as the lecture notes of a student from the first class, as well as other exhibits. The coolest thing to me was Gustav II Adolf’s konstskåp, or art cabinet. The massive piece of furniture weighed well over a ton, and its drawers contained over 2000 items ranging from playing cards to musical instruments.
The other notable feature of the building was the old dissection theatre inside the dome. There were no seats, and the standing space was limited so students who fainted wouldn’t fall down the steep tiers. The walls were painted blue with black splatters to disguise any blood that might end up on them. It was probably the coolest lecture hall I’ve ever seen, and our tour guide said that surgical students at the university still have their first class in that room.
The Uppsala art museum is located inside the old palace. The featured exhibit was the ceramic instillation by Swedish artist Veronica Brovall. Her work looked at conceptions of the body. My favorite piece was one called “Man Drawer” which highlighted questions about masculinity and juxtaposed chaos and restriction.
Saturday: Final Project
For our final day in Uppsala, we worked on our creative interpretations of the short story “The Eclipse” by Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf. We each had to reinterpret the story through a different genre or setting, focusing on how the main character experienced othering in her group, and we discussed them with each other over fika. It was interesting to see how we all explored drastically different aspects of the same short story.
Overall, this week was extremely fun, and I enjoyed being able to focus on my core class. I loved being able to tour Uppsala, and I hope I will get to go back when it’s a little warmer outside.