History, landscape and national identity
: a comparative study of contemporary English and Icelandic literature for children

  • Anna Heida Pálsdóttir

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This literary study is a comparative analysis of 86 contemporary English and Icelandic children’s books, mainly published in 1970-1999. The main argument is that the children’s literature of a particular nation provides a key to understanding the nation’s frame of mind, what stirs its emotions and provokes its thoughts; that children’s literature reveals the nature of the nation’s relationship with its surroundings, its interaction with the national landscape and its concept of space. Moreover, children’s books can demonstrate how the national imagination is linked with the local landscape and its peculiarities through memories, myths and meanings.

    A theoretical model was constructed to demonstrate the interplay between landscape and history, and to make explicit the hidden constructs of national identity. Working with that model, employing a cultural materialist viewpoint – which embraces perspectives from different fields – made it possible to elucidate notions of national identity embedded in the texts.

    The comparative study made explicit differences between the English and Icelandic approach to class, family, community, institutions of state, popular culture and politics. The dissimilarities are rooted in the histories and landscapes of the two nations, which are vastly contrasting. The outcome of the study implies that the Icelandic nation seems secure in its identity: the experiences of history have produced a national attitude of unity. In contrast, the evidence shows that English national identity is marked by division, in terms of class and region, landscape and language. The study shows that there is a richness in difference. Although overarching global movements would lead us to believe that assimilation into a common culture is either inevitable or desirable, there are nonetheless radical differences, which are drawn from the relationships determined by history and landscape.
    Date of Award2002
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    • University College Worcester
    SponsorsRANNIS (The Icelandic Graduate Students Research Fund) & British ORS (Overseas Research Students Fund)
    SupervisorJean Webb (Supervisor) & Sigrun Klara Hannesdottir (Supervisor)


    • literature
    • national identity
    • Iceland
    • England
    • children's books

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