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Bellingham Bulletin

Lecture Series at Senior Center Is Focused on the Vikings

Jan 30, 2020 06:00AM ● By Pamela Johnson

Standing (L-R): Karen Finch, Prudence Cook, Larry Pearson, Diane Howell, Don Russell and Larry Albert; Seated: Beverly Trimm, Paul Peter and John Kirby

story & photo by Marjorie Turner Hollman, Contributing Writer

A group of people meet at the Bellingham Senior Center every Tuesday afternoon at 1:30, to listen to a college-level lecture about various topics and then discuss the lecture, reflect on their thoughts, and bring up experiences related ( or not) to the lecture they have just heard. It’s kind of like what college students have done for many years, but most of these students are over 60 (at least), and they don’t take any tests. It’s learning for the sake of learning, getting into history, perhaps for the first time.

The Vikings have been the topic of discussion for the past 15 weeks and will continue to be the group’s topic for another 15 weeks. Rather than throwing a bunch of dates and names at these students, the lecturer, in this case a college professor, Paul Peter, uses maps, videos and historical pictures, along with stories about what is known of the Vikings, including archeological finds from digs in Scandinavian countries.

“I saw the sign for the Vikings program when I came to the Senior Center,” one member explained.

Another has Scandinavian heritage and came from a few towns away to learn more. “I wasn’t in the loop before,” he noted.

“Well, welcome to the loop,” another replied. It’s clear that this group has spent time together and enjoy one another’s company. Gentle teasing is a part of their process.

Bellingham resident Paul Peter was invited several years ago to create a program for the Senior Center, and he came up with the idea of showing the historical lectures and making time for discussion. “I watch each video prior to sharing it with the class,” Peter explained. “I research on the internet any questions I have about the topic, then listen to the lecture again the day before I share it with the class. I needed something to do, and I look forward to this group. I really enjoy it.”

Peter purchases the video lectures, then shows them to the group free of charge so that they can share this learning experience. Some students in the group have attended the entire series, covering topics as varied as American military history, the Barbarians, and now the Vikings. Other students joined more recently, when the topic of Vikings came up. In the spring the group will be studying Comparative Religions.

When the topic was American military history, Peter partnered with Bellingham resident Frank McMahon, who prepared short, ten to twenty minute presentations, on bird and animal stories related to each week’s lecture, which he shared with the group immediately following each lecture.

The session I attended focused on the period between the late 700s and into the 9th century, the time of Alfred the Great. The professor provided background about the fragmentation of the communities living in England at the time, which were a widespread collection of not-so-friendly villages that were easy prey for marauding Viking warriors looking for more arable land and resources for their growing population.

We learned of the ferocity of the Vikings, their ruthless raids, and their willingness to exact revenge. The English countryside offered attractive targets, seaside villages not well fortified and productive farms. We also learned of the importance of Alfred the Great’s efforts to create “shires,” throughout his English “Kingdom,” fortified villages that were better able to fend off repeated raids by the Vikings, from both Denmark and Norway.

The professor noted evidence of Danish words that had been incorporated into the English language as just one piece of the puzzle of what happened in this long-ago time. He also pointed to English artifacts found buried in Viking graves in Norway. “This was not as the result of trade,” he explained. “We have clear evidence that these were things taken by force.”

Attendance is free, and the group meets every week. But be warned—learning is addictive. You might find yourself heading to the Bellingham Senior Center every week to find out more.
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