The Secret of Otter’s Ransom:
An Electronic, Interactive, Interdisciplinary
Introduction to the Medieval North Atlantic


A Panoramic View from the Point near Reykir (Image Credit: Fee and Rutkowski 2006)


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Medieval North Atlantic Project Overview & Navigation:


Imagine a portal through which one could all but splash about in the hot-spring in which Grettir Asmundarson revived himself after his icy swim from Drangey Isle in Grettir’s Saga; imagine that the same portal allowed one to look down upon the site of the Thorsness Thing from the lofty heights of Helgafell described in Eyrbyggja Saga. Moreover, envision utilizing such a portal to visit Maes Howe, an ancient chambered cairn on Orkney vandalized by grave-robbing Vikings, or the Ring of Brodgar, one of the great stone circles of Britain, which likewise sports graffiti in the form of Norse runes. Consider what one might see if one could visit Lindisfarne, site of the first great Viking raid upon a British monastery, on a bright and windswept day.

Such a portal lies at your fingertips: Simply click one of the links above to begin exploring the world of the Medieval North Atlantic. When the interactive map and pull-down menus load, choose a site listed on the left-hand side of the screen: A visitor may organize sites by name, type, or geographical region. Most simply of all, the savvy traveler may just click on the map itself. To learn about life at home amongst the Vikings in Britain, for example, one could visit Jarlshof, one of the most important Norse settlement sites in the Northern Isles of Scotland.

To get there, choose “Shetland” from the Country menu or “Settlement Site” from the Object menu; if you have some sense of where Jarlshof is, however, just click on the general area on the map. Once there, you may dip into a detailed textual report on the site, access a bibliography for further information, watch any of ten instructive videos, view panoramic scenes from six vantage points, play an Interactive Fiction game based at Jarlshof, and take an online quiz to test your knowledge of this site and of Norse domestic life in the Viking Age.

Utilizing hundreds of QTVR panoramas, documentary-style digital video clips, and interactive digital images, this project allows visitors to navigate oceans of time and space; armed with scholarly guidebooks, interactive maps, runic transcription guides, and related travel aids, cyber-tourists may visit some of the most significant sites of the Medieval North Atlantic. The participants in this adventure concurrently will gain intimate knowledge of the past in a vibrant, active-learning environment.


Medieval North Atlantic Project Objectives:


An on-going work in progress, The Medieval North Atlantic multimedia project combines student research projects and student-designed interactive fiction games with instructor-compiled, student-edited film clips, panoramas, and static images of key sites from the Medieval North Atlantic. Freely available online, this project may be of use to anyone interested in the early Middle Ages in and around the British Isles, and thus might serve a very useful function in any number of medieval literature or history courses, as well as being of general interest to the public at large. Moreover, the aspect of this project most clearly applicable to a range of projects in many disciplines is the nexus between collections of digital objects with student needs and use: This project models a self-conscious development of the points of contact between student scholarship and creative assignments, instructor digital asset management, and the shared pedagogical goal of student engagement.


Project Key Personnel and Institution:

Christopher Fee, Professor & Chair of English
Department of English
Gettysburg College
300 North Washington Street
Gettysburg, PA 17325
717.337.6762 (phone)
717.337.6666 (fax)


Gettysburg College serves as Host Institution and Fiscal Agent

James Rutkowski, Director Technical Support, Blackboard (Primary Technical Consultant, Layout Designer, & Software Engineer)

Todd Neller, Associate Professor and Chair of Computer Science, Gettysburg College (Interactive Fiction Consultant)


Existing Project Components:

This project is designed to be modular, so that new materials may be added easily; the following is a list of the materials already compiled and currently undergoing editing and formatting:

Stone Age and Prehistoric Sites:

  • Maes Howe (Linked QTVR Panoramas)
  • Ring of Brodgar (QTVR Panorama)
  • The Stones of Stenness (QTVR Panorama)
  • Skara Brae (Linked QTVR Panoramas)
Roman Sites:
  • Temple of Mithras at Carrawburgh (QTVR Panorama; Interactive Object)
  • Hadrian’s Wall (Paired QTVR Panoramas)
  • Chesters Roman Fort (Linked QTVR Panoramas)
Iron Age and Celtic Sites:
  • Broch of Gurness (Linked QTVR Panoramas)
  • Mousa Broch (Linked QTVR Panoramas; Documentary Video Footage)
  • Tap o Noth Hill Fort (Linked QTVR Panoramas)
Anglo-Saxon Sites:
  • Brussels Cross (Interactive Object; Documentary Video Footage)
  • Durham Cathedral (Linked QTVR Panoramas)
  • Lindisfarne Priory (Linked QTVR Panoramas)
  • Ruthwell Cross (Interactive Object; Documentary Video Footage)
British Viking Sites:
  • Andreas Cross-slabs (Interactive Object; Documentary Video Footage)
  • Balladoole Ship Burial (Documentary Video Footage)
  • Braaid Farmstead (Linked QTVR Panoramas; Documentary Video Footage)
  • Brough of Birsay (Linked QTVR Panoramas)
  • Cronk ny Merriu Longhouse and Promontory Fortlet (Linked QTVR Panoramas; Documentary Video Footage)
  • Cunningsburgh Soapstone Workshop (Documentary Video Footage)
  • Jarlshof Settlement (Linked QTVR Panoramas; Documentary Video Footage)
  • Knockadoone Ship Burial (Documentary Video Footage)
  • Maughold Cross-slabs (Interactive Object; Documentary Video Footage)
  • Sullom Voe Portage (Documentary Video Footage)
  • Ting Wall Holm Assembly Island (Linked QTVR Panoramas; Documentary Video Footage)
  • Tynwald Assembly Place (Linked QTVR Panoramas; Documentary Video Footage)
  • Yell Settlement (Documentary Video Footage)
Icelandic Saga Sites:
  • Þingvellir (Linked QTVR Panoramas; Documentary Video Footage)
  • Mosfell Valley (Linked QTVR Panoramas; Documentary Video Footage)
  • Brakar's Sound at Borgarnes (Linked QTVR Panoramas; Documentary Video Footage)
  • Borg á Myrum (Linked QTVR Panoramas; Documentary Video Footage)
  • Snorralaug at Reykholt (Linked QTVR Panoramas; Documentary Video Footage)
  • Helgafell (Linked QTVR Panoramas; Documentary Video Footage)
  • Berserkjagata (Linked QTVR Panoramas; Documentary Video Footage)
  • Hvamm (Linked QTVR Panoramas; Documentary Video Footage)
  • Hjardarholt (Linked QTVR Panoramas; Documentary Video Footage)
  • Laugar (Linked QTVR Panoramas; Documentary Video Footage)
  • Grettislaug at Reykir (Linked QTVR Panoramas; Documentary Video Footage)
  • Hegraness Thing (Linked QTVR Panoramas; Documentary Video Footage)

Saint Magnus Sites from Orkneyingasaga:

  • Ting Wall on Mainland in Orkney, where Magnus and Hakon compacted a truce (Documentary Video Footage)
  • Kirk of Saint Magnus on the island of Egilsay, where Magnus was martyred (Documentary Video Footage)
  • Christ Church at Birsay, where Magnus was first interred (Documentary Video Footage)
  • Kirk of Saint Olaf in Kirkwall, where Magnus was later translated (Documentary Video Footage)
  • Cathedral of Saint Magnus in Kirkwall, where Magnus was finally laid to rest (Linked QTVR Panoramas; Documentary Video Footage)
  • Orphir Round Church, built by Earl Hakon in penance for the slaying of Magnus (Linked QTVR Panoramas; Documentary Video Footage)


Project Pedagogical Concerns:


Overview of Pedagogical Goals:

The pedagogical goal of this project that would seem to be most clearly applicable to a wide range of projects in very different disciplines involves the nexus between collections of digital objects with student needs and use: In other words, what we are developing that may be of the most use to other instructors involves a self-conscious development of the nexus between student writing assignments, instructor digital asset management, and the shared pedagogical goal (and avenue) of student engagement.

Specific Pedagogical Methodology:

Having developed a topic and a working bibliography in consultation with the instructor, each student grounds a discussion of a broad cultural or literary topic in the specific details of a particular site relevant to that larger study; after developing a site report in at least two drafts, the student then turns to a creative revisitation of the site through drafts of an IF game. Each student then develops an online quiz which could assess a visitor’s grasp of the key points concerning that site. In each succeeding iteration, I subsequently both have utilized and tested the efficacy of these tools by integrating them in sophomore-level survey courses.

Key Pedagogical Points :

  • This project uses emerging technology but privileges student-generated text.
  • This project combines student writing assignments with multimedia collections.
  • This project is designed to engage students on textual as well as visual levels.
  • This project involves what might be termed a “hermeneutics of retrieval of information.”
  • This project is designed around coherent and demonstrable narrative and pedagogical trajectories.
  • This project requires students to gather information, but it also requires them to exercise and/or develop intellectual skills: This project requires a student to make leaps and to quantify one’s own intellectual journey as well as to enact a virtual scavenger hunt through space and time.
  • Central to this project is a reflective component for each student: How did I solve the puzzle? What clues did I unearth? What intellectual tools did I utilize/develop? What did I learn about the Medieval North Atlantic World, of course, but, moreover, what did I learn about how and what I learned?
  • In the long term this project should require the instructors to assess how a writing assignment may take advantage of new technologies at the same time it transcends such media.

Pedagogical Methodology:

Students learn best when they are presenting their work to others, when—in effect—they are utilizing the fruits of their research as teaching tools for their peers. Imagine, then, that these same students were empowered to utilize a multimedia archive in such a way that they could create—in the context of user-friendly documentary clips and linked panoramic images—compelling research documents, game-based presentations of the same material, and associated interactive assessment quizzes which allowed visitors to such a student’s project site to learn about various aspects of life in Medieval Iceland in a fascinating and fun way.



Project Outcomes:


To date various components of the Medieval North Atlantic project have led to a number of national and international presentations, one of which culminated as a book chapter; thus the pedagogical and scholarly aspects of this project clearly have had a demonstrable impact upon one another. Although the fundamental goal of the Medieval North Atlantic remains pedagogical, and although the associated iterations of the Medieval North Atlantic courses will be its primary outcomes, I have every reason to believe that the Medieval North Atlantic will extend my research agenda in significant ways. In addition to its functions in various iterations of several of my courses, some recent formal outcomes of the project include those listed below; I anticipate continuing to demonstrate aspects of the project, courses, and multimedia components in a number of similar venues in the future:

"Saga Studies in the Undergraduate Classroom: Setting a Saga Course across the Medieval North Atlantic." 48th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, MI. 10 May 2013.

Með lögum skal land vort byggja: ‘With Law Shall the Land be Built.’ Law-Speaking and Identity in the Medieval Norse Atlantic,” in The Medieval Atlantic World, a volume in the New Middle Ages Series. B. Hudson, ed. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

“Norwegian Vikings, Scottish Islands, and the Irish Sea: Norse Law & Identity in the Early Medieval British Isles.” Department of Cultural Studies and Languages, University of Stavanger, Norway. 9 March 2012.

“Winning Fafnir’s Gold: Seeking Viking Treasures with Interactive Fiction.” Faculty Collaborative Seminar Series, Quinnipiac University,  Hamden, CT. 3 March 2011.

“The Making of Magnus: Charting the Mayhem and Miracles of Orkneyingasaga from the Manuscript Page to the Multimedia Age.” Five-College Seminar in Medieval Studies, Amherst, MA. 12 November 2010.

“Magic, Miracles, and Murder: Sifting through Sinners and Saints in the Stories and Sites of Orkneyingasaga.” Old Norse Language and Literature Session: “Magic and the Supernatural in Old Literature,” Modern Language Association Convention, Philadelphia, PA. 29 December 2009.

“Með lögum skal land vort byggja: ‘With Law Shall the Land be Built.’ Law-Speaking and Identity in the Medieval Norse Atlantic.” “The Atlantic in the Middle Ages,” Annual Medieval Studies Conference, the Center for Medieval Studies, the Pennsylvania State University, University Park. 28 March 2009.

“The Secret of Otter’s Ransom: Navigating the Medieval North Atlantic through Interactive Fiction.” National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education Summit, San Francisco, CA. 3-5 April 2008.

“The Ruthwell Cross/Dream of the Rood Digital Project: A Progress Report.” Major contributor of data presented by collaborative group at the 12th Biennial Conference of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists. Munich, Germany. 1-6 August 2005.

“Digitally Imagining the Rood: Praxis and Pitfalls in the Development of a Prototype Electronic Ruthwell Cross.” 40th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, MI. 5-8 May 2005.


Project Assessment:


Several unsolicited positive assessments of various aspects of the existing components of this project suggest a generally respectful and interested reception of these materials. For example, the merits of the existing Otter’s Ransom project and its relationship to earlier manifestations of the Medieval North Atlantic course have received some accolades, including a substantial interactive discussion on a post of Liberal Education Today. In addition, the designers of the IF gaming software employed in this endeavor have followed with interest its implementation as a pedagogical tool.

Such exposure of the project led to an invitation to present my related research into Norse assembly sites at an invitation-only conference at Penn State, an opportunity which culminated in a book chapter as well as an invitation to explore Orkneyingasaga at the Modern Language Association in December of 2009. A related session on Sagas in the Undergraduate Classroom followed at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Spring 2013.


Project Technology and Terminology:


The digitized images that make up the pedagogical matter of this project take three forms:  1)  Linked Quick-Time Virtual Reality (QTVR) panoramas which allow the virtual traveler to scan 360 degrees from a series of vantage points at each site;  2)  Static images which allow that traveler to examine more closely details of important aspects of each site;  3)  Video images which capture sounds and activities at each site, and offer the opportunity for the traveler to unearth some explanatory voice-over information about the historical and cultural context of each site.  By combining digitized video footage, QTVR panoramas, static images, and simple maps of sites, one can create compelling virtual tours. “Virtual” simply means that such electronic representations are quite evocative of the actual sites, and that they are to some degree interactive.  These panoramas are “interactive” in that (by clicking and dragging the cursor on the screen with one’s mouse) one may “interact” with the images.  Most simply put, by clicking and dragging the cursor, one can look around 360 degrees from the vantage point the creator chose when recording a panorama.  The visitor chooses the pace and the direction of examination, drawing upon the finite number of images filmed by the creator of that panorama. By “multimedia” I mean that the project is composed of a combination of text, static images, streaming video, and sounds, rather than of text alone.  The inclusion of short documentary-style informative video clips created at many sites, for example, helps both to elucidate points of interest and to draw the visitor more fully into the virtual experience;  further, creating “hotspots”—which allow a visitor to click on various objects in the QTVR panoramas—allows for much richer and more informative tours. The project is interactive on one level in that it is composed utilizing hypertext links that allow a traveler to navigate through a series of related documents according to that traveler’s interests and needs, rather than moving only in a traditional linear fashion. Moreover, the project achieves another level of interaction through its use of Interactive Fiction. “Interactive Fiction” (IF) is a rather traditional genre of computer gaming that recently has seen a resurgence of interest concurrent with a revitalization of gaming software. IF technology allows us to link our multimedia teaching tools into a matrix of narrative text which empowers each participant to reason through a series of clues, to plan and take virtual journeys as a result of puzzling out these clues, and to combine a survey of sites and artifacts with an adventure quest.


Project Credits:

In its present form, this project was conceived of by Christopher R. Fee and implemented by Fee, James Rutkowski, and their collaborators; substantial collaborators on one or more components of the project include:

Brian J Cipperly, ’06, Video Editing Consultant; Maura Culkin, ’07, Research Consultant on Viking Iceland; Sarah Doherty, ’01, Assistant Professor of English at Prince George's Community College, Research Consultant on Viking Britain; Katherine A. Elkind, '11, Research Consultant on Viking Orkney; Martin Foys, Associate Professor of English at Hood College, Consultant on the Brussels Cross; Oliver Gibbon, Technological Consultant and Imaging Expert on the Brussels Cross; Charles Hannon, Associate Professor and Chair of Information Technology Leadership at Washington and Jefferson College, Technological Consultant on Viking Britain; Michael Howells, ’05, Research Consultant on the Brussels Cross; Kathryn Lowe, Senior Lecturer in English Language and Director of the University of Glasgow Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies, Consultant on Viking Britain; Andrew Chase McMullen, '11, Technological Consultant and Imaging Expert on Viking Orkney; Daniel O'Donnell, Associate Professor and Chair of English at the University of Lethbridge and Director of the Digital Medievalist Project, Consultant on the Brussels Cross; Meghan Peck, '08, IF Pedagogical Consultant, Peer Learning Associate, and Illustrator; Joseph Zoller, ’01, Technological Consultant and Imaging Expert on Viking Britain.

Acknowledgement also is due to the students of the Battle for Mythic Britain courses in the Fall of 1999 and the Fall of 2008; to those of my Beowulf classes in the Fall of 2011 and the Spring of 2012; to those in my Torture & Text in Anglo-Saxon England seminar in Fall 2005; to those of my Vikings in Britain course in the Spring of 2012; and to those of the Viking Studies seminars in the Fall of 1998, the Fall of 2001, the Fall of 2007, the Fall of 2008, the Fall of 2010, and the Spring of 2013; where substantial text was authored by a particular student in such a course, appropriate credit will appear in proximity to that text.

Substantial support has been provided thus far by Gettysburg College through the Office of the Provost, the Faculty Development Committee, the Department of English, and the Department of Instructional Technology. Early iterations of some virtual content were funded through A.W. Mellon funds administered through Gettysburg College and the Central Pennsylvania Consortium.


Access Medieval North Atlantic Objects


The Medieval North Atlantic object viewer can be accessed through the links below. To access the site, you must have the Macromedia Flash 8 plugin installed. Panoramic images are viewed using the Quicktime movie plugin.

View Medieval North Atlantic Objects:




The project as a whole, including all digital video, QTVR panoramas, and digital static images compiled by Fee, Rutkowski, and their collaborators, all textual content, the design, structure and format of the individual pages, and all related work, is copyright 1999-2014 Christopher R. Fee, James Rutkowski, and Gettysburg College. Work credited to a particular student remains the property of that student, although all participants have signed waivers granting permission for such work to be used in perpetuity in this and any subsequent projects. The copyright holders severally reserve the right to display and to modify all work herein in any way for non-profit and educational purposes.



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All Content Copyright 1999-2014 Gettysburg College, Christopher R. Fee, and James Rutkowski