My research addresses a wide variety of genres and periods of Nordic culture and literature, centering on popular traditions, mythology, and legends in the late medieval and early modern periods, but I have also written on such diverse topics as Scandinavian drama and women's autobiographical literature in the 17th century. I am the author of Heroic Sagas and Ballads, a study of the medieval Icelandic mythical-heroic sagas and their heritage in more recent Scandinavian ballads and other oral traditions, and of the medieval section of A History of Swedish Literature, work for which I was awarded The Dag Strömbäck Prize from The Royal Gustav Adolf Academy. My recent research, including as a Fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies and a visitor at the University of Aarhus, resulted in a book-length study of witchcraft and magic throughout medieval Scandinavia, Witchcraft and Magic in the Nordic Middle Ages, for which I was named a Walter Channing Cabot Fellow. I am currently a Fellow of the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in Uppsala, where I am working on a project on medieval and early modern Nordic charm magic.
As an undergraduate, I attended the University of California, Berkeley (A.B. in Anthropology and Scandinavian Languages and Literatures). I also studied at the University of Lund, Sweden and the University of Minnesota (Ph.D., in Scandinavian Languages and Literatures). In addition to being part of Harvard’s Scandinavian Program, and an active member (and former chairman) of The Committee on Degrees in Folklore and Mythology, I am also Curator of the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature and serve on the Committee on Medieval Studies. Since coming to Harvard in 1980, I have been very involved in student life, and am the former Master of Eliot House (1991-2000). Together with colleagues from the University of Aarhus, Denmark, I annually teach Harvard’s Viking Studies Program in Scandinavia.