Department of European Languages and Cultures

Festive festschrifts – graduates edit books in honour of PhD mentors

We sit down with Scandinavian Studies graduates Christian Cooijmans and Ian Giles, editors of two new books honouring the work of their PhD supervisors Arne Kruse and Bjarne Thorup Thomsen.

Ian Giles and Chris Cooijmans holding their books by the Swedish Runestone
Ian Giles and Chris Cooijmans with their books by the Swedish Runestone outside 50 George Square

Published by the Scottish Society for Northern Studies (SSNS), the two books, 'Islands of Place and Space' and 'Scandinavia Refracted', celebrate retired staff members Arne Kruse and Bjarne Thorup Thomsen and their invaluable contribution to SSNS and Scandinavian Studies.

The books are made up of contributions from 45 individuals, including the honourees’ colleagues, former students and family, and have been edited by Christian Cooijmans and Ian Giles, former PhD students at the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC).

We speak to Chris and Ian about their roles as editors, their involvement with SSNS and their time at LLC.

A chance to celebrate properly  

Talking about the inspiration for the books, Ian says: “A couple of years ago, we agreed that we would organise a day of papers in honour of Arne and Bjarne at the midpoint between their respective 65th birthdays. But in 2020, the pandemic hit, and I caught wind of the fact that both were considering retirement. It left me wondering what to do.”

With social distancing restrictions in place during the Covid-19 pandemic, the department of Scandinavian Studies was forced to hold online retirement receptions for Arne and Bjarne.

But then Chris came up with an idea: “I suggested it that we publish two festschrifts, with each of us taking on the editorship for one of them as Arne was my PhD supervisor and Bjarne was Ian’s.”

“Publishing these volumes with SSNS was the obvious choice, as both honourees have strong ties to the Society - Arne having been its President from 2012 to 2015, and Bjarne having acted as General Editor of its journal, Northern Studies, between 1996 and 2004.”

Keeping the editorial process a secret

Book covers of the two festschrifts

Taking us through the editing process, Ian admits that it was an odd experience as festschrifts usually come into being as part of an event or conference.

He explains: “We went in cold, starting by working out who we might invite for each book. We set the parameters for contributions, and we shepherded people through submissions and reviews.”

A major challenge was not having met most of the contributors in years – or ever – and Ian describes the connection with other people in the project as “fragile” at times. 

Chris agrees that the project brought challenges he hadn’t encountered before: “Not only was there no event to build on, we were set on keeping the volumes a secret from the honourees until their publication.”

“For me, this made it especially challenging to piece together some of the details of Arne’s earlier career, as well as track down and contact his colleagues and friends from before his time at Edinburgh.”

“But it was brilliant to see that everyone I reached out to was delighted to be a part of the volume, whether as an author, peer-reviewer, or even just to add their name to the list of well-wishers. All in all, the amiable nature of the editorial process made it a very fulfilling experience, which was strengthened by the support of SSNS as publisher.”

Working together to manage a big project

Aside from their time at LLC, Ian and Chris know each other from their work with SSNS. They both started out by helping at events and conferences and are now on the Society’s committee together.

As Ian is a full-time translator and Chris an experienced editor, the pair were confident taking on the festschrift project.

It took two years from idea to publication, and they reveal that the process was made easier due to their years at Edinburgh. Ian says: “The ability to work with large volumes of text and manage a long-term project are things that I find easier in working life thanks to my PhD."

Chris echoes this: “There was a lot more work involved than we originally anticipated. My PhD at Edinburgh and subsequent work as an academic have been more than useful, as it allows me to productively manage lengthier projects like this without losing track of any one individual element.”

They both agree that it’s important to work with the right person: “Ian has been a brilliant co-conspirator throughout the entire process to coordinate and compare notes with.”

Similarly, Ian is full of praise for Chris: “He has been a superb partner and cheerleader in this project, adding more energy and insight whenever it was needed.”

“Scandinavian Studies brought us together”

After finishing an undergraduate degree in Scandinavian Studies in 2011, Ian considered it to be a “no brainer” to stick around for the MSc in Translation Studies: “Swedish was only available at two universities in the UK, and similarly, Edinburgh was the only place I applied to do a PhD. By then, Scandinavian Studies felt like home thanks to the supportive staff.”

Chris, originally from the Netherlands, came to Scotland in 2012 to do an MSc in Medieval History at the School of History, Classics and Archaeology. He took a number of courses in Scandinavian Studies before embarking on his PhD journey in 2014 to investigate viking activity in continental Europe, underlining the interdisciplinary nature of study at LLC.

He’s currently a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Liverpool and has continued his work as a researcher of the viking world.

“My choice to stay for my PhD had a lot to do with the University’s broad range of expertise and its interdisciplinary approach to research. My own work often straddled the line between History and Scandinavian Studies, and I was always made to feel especially welcome and supported by the latter.”

Like Chris, Ian highlights the interdisciplinary approach at LLC: “In which other fields would I have ever met Chris as a colleague? Scandinavian Studies brought us together.”

Chris recalls “countless fond memories from my time spent at LLC,” and just like anyone who has had the chance to work in 50 George Square, he confesses: “I certainly haven’t had an office with a more spectacular view since!”

Are you interested in Scandinavian Studies at Edinburgh?

Edinburgh is the only university in Scotland, and one of only two in the UK, to offer undergraduate honours programmes in Scandinavian Studies, enabling you to learn modern Danish, Swedish or Norwegian in the context of Scandinavian culture, past and present. Postgraduate students can take an MSc by Research or PhD in aspects of Nordic languages, literatures, history, culture or society.

Find out more about Scandinavian Studies

Related links

SSNS Publishes Two Festschrifts – Books Now on Sale! [external page]