Iceland's Seawomen from Viking Times to the Present

Icelandic woman

By MarEx 2016-05-16 21:07:40

Dr Margaret Willson of the University of Washington is about to release her latest book: Seawomen of Iceland: Survival on the Edge published by University of Washington Press. 

The book covers women working at sea in Iceland from the Viking times to the present, with numerous accounts from the 17-1800s including women commanding their boats. The book also includes detailed accounts of modern-day women. 

“The women with whom I spoke, who have worked on boats from the 1950s to the present, talked about their experiences of getting jobs, of working on board boats where generally all other crew members were men, and also of taking command or engineering positions aboard vessels,” said Willson. “A lot of their experiences would be relevant to women working at sea and for the work of the IMO.”

The idea for the book came about after Willson visited Iceland where she saw a plaque contained the words “This is the winter fishing hut of Thurídur Einarsdóttir, one of Iceland’s greatest fishing captains. She lived from 1777 to 1863.”

“Wait,” Willson, a former seafarer herself, said, “she?” So began a quest. Were there more Icelandic seawomen? Most present-day Icelanders she encountered said no, and indeed this seemed the most likely since in most parts of the world, fishing is considered solely a male profession. Much to her surprise, Willson found the opposite to be true.

“Seawomen of Iceland” offers a glimpse into the hidden lives of the vibrant and courageous fisherwomen who have braved the sea in Iceland for centuries. Their accounts include the excitement, accidents, trials and tribulations of fishing in the Nordic island-nation from the historic times of small, open rowboats to the complex and technologically advanced fisheries of today. The seawomen’s voices speak with universal insight—of strength, determination, intelligence, and above all, a knowledge of how to survive.

“Willson shows that contrary to dominant conceptions in Iceland, women have gone to sea, and she explains how the ideas regarding their participation have changed. This book is a very important contribution to the knowledge of maritime life in Iceland. With her vivid stories Willson brings Icelandic seawomen to life.” —Unnur Dis Skaptadottir, University of Iceland

Margaret Willson

Margaret Willson is a cultural anthropologist whose current research interests focus on issues relating to Arctic and Northern concerns, including fisheries, gender and small-scale communities. She is affiliate associate professor of anthropology and Canadian studies at the University of Washington and the author of Seawomen of Iceland: Survival on the Edge and Dance Lest We All Fall Down: Breaking Cycles of Poverty in Brazil and Beyond.

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