Smithsonian Journeys Experts
Elisabeth Ida Ward
Holding a Ph.D. in Scandinavian Languages and Literature from the University of California at Berkeley, Dr. Ward has a long-term passionate interest in all things Icelandic. Her interest began as a child, listening to her mother, Margrét Guðmundsdóttir, speak to her grandparents in the Icelandic language, which Elisabeth taught herself over many years while growing up in Southern California and traveling to Iceland during the summer. As part of her Ph.D. research, Dr. Ward lived in Iceland from 2006 to 2010, receiving Icelandic citizenship. Her dissertation focuses on the medieval Icelandic narratives called the Sagas of Icelanders; Dr. Ward’s research reveals the relationship between those stories and the actual physical landscape of Iceland. She argues they are “co-constituted”, meaning one cannot be read without the other.
In addition to her expertise in the Icelandic Sagas, Dr. Ward is also an expert in the Viking Age, having served as the Assistant Curator for a special Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition from 2000 to 2004 entitled Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga (the scholarly companion volume to that exhibition is still in print and widely utilized). She also worked as the Program Director for Vikingaheimar Museum in Reykjanesbær, Iceland, and as the Director of the Scandinavian Cultural Center at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma Washington. Since 2005, she has served as a consultant for Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center helping to create exhibitions for their Norway Pavilion about the Vikings, Norwegian folk culture, and Norse mythology. She recently returned to California to take a position as Executive Director of the Los Altos History Museum. The daughter of an American service man who met his wife while stationed in Iceland in the 1960s, Elisabeth is the mother of a 12-year-old son. Her hobbies include cooking and hiking as well as taking care of her cats.