"The World of manuscripts" in Nordic House

Frá ráðstefnunni Heimur handritanna. Ljósmyndari: Jóhanna Ólafsdóttir The international conference ‘The World of Manuscripts’ was held in The Nordic House on the 10th-12th October as one of the events that the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies has organised in 2013 to celebrate the 350th birthday of the manuscript collector Árni Magnússon. The Nordic crime author Arnaldur Indriðason was the guest of honour and he delivered the opening address. This was in Icelandic but the rest of the conference was held in English.

The conference was very well attended: 170 people signed up for it and around one third were from countries other than Iceland. Frá ráðstefnunni Heimur handritanna. Ljósmyndari: Jóhanna Ólafsdóttir 16 lectures were presented over the course of 8 sessions; in each session, the focus was directed both towards Árni’s collection and at manuscripts from other collections. 

In the first session, Már Jónsson (professor of history at HÍ) talked about Árni as a manuscript collector and Professor Richard Sharpe from Oxford presented research on collectors of Irish manuscripts. He noted that if the Irish had had a collector with such a burning passion for manuscripts as Árni, many more precious Irish manuscripts might have survived.  

Alex Speed Kjeldsen, who has recently completed a doctoral thesis on Morkinskinna at the University of Copenhagen, delivered a lecture on trends in paleography and Icelandic manuscripts. In the same session, David Ganz, a well-known British paleographer, gave a paper on medieval ideas about scripts. Åslaug Ommundsen, a young scholar from Bergen who has researched the Latin fragments in the Árni Magnússon collection, drew in her talk on her current research project (based at Bergen University) which aims to show how manuscript fragments can shed light on Old Norse literary culture and manuscript centres in the medieval period, particularly in Iceland and in Lund in Sweden. As Åslaug‘s counterpart, Mariken Teeuwen, a Dutch medieval manuscript specialist, presented research on manuscripts that are written in Latin but contain extensive commentary and explanations in other vernacular languages, both inserted between the lines of the main text and in the margins.

One of the aims of the conference was to approach manuscripts from the perspective of different academic disciplines, thus another session was dedicated to manuscripts as sources for musical notation. Ráðstefnan Heimur handritanna í Norræna húsinu 10.-12. október 2013 The Cambridge University musicologist Professor Susan Rankin talked about musical notation in early medieval manuscripts from Continental Europe and Árni Heimir Ingólfsson discussed Icelandic manuscripts as a source for the history of Icelandic music. Jeffrey Hamburger, Professor of Art History from Harvard University, presented a paper about a magnificently illuminated medieval German manuscript produced by nuns and Guðbjörg Kristjánsdóttir talked about the Icelandic Teiknibók. Other lecturers were Professor Margaret Ezell from Texas, Professor Jürg Glauser from Switzerland, Peter Springborg, former director of the Arnamagnæan Institute in Copenhagen, and Dr Per Cullhed from Uppsala.  

Frá ráðstefnunni Heimur handritanna. Ljósmyndari: Jóhanna Ólafsdóttir The conference ended with a session in which Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir (Head of the Manuscripts Section at the Árnastofnun) and Matthew Driscoll (Head of the Arnamagnæan Collection in Copenhagen) presented six especially intriguing manuscripts from Árni Magnússon‘s collection, some of which are kept in Reykjavík, others in Copenhagen.

There was plenty of time for participants to ask questions at the end of each session and there were many interesting comments from the floor. Many of the 30 students on the Medieval Icelandic Studies Programme at HÍ took an active part in the conference and also assisted in the running of it.
Frá ráðstefnunni Heimur handritanna. Ljósmyndari: Jóhanna Ólafsdóttir

On Sunday 13th October, conference participants were invited on a daytrip to Hvalfjörður, Reykholt, Húsafell, Hraunfossar and Þingvellir. The weather was excellent and the trip was a success in all respects.