It’s very exciting to be able to launch this online resource in association with my Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship. The research project, with the acronym ICELANDIC SCRIBES, has post-medieval mansucripts and scribes at its heart. While the project is now very close to its formal end, the work is far from complete. The website is also launching as a work-in-progress, and it will take a while to add all of the data I have been collecting and working with over the course of the project. As pages are updated and new pages about manuscripts and scribes are added, this will be announced with a blog post. These will be accessible via the main landing page and on the sidebar under “News Archive”. Other news – e.g. conference papers and publications relating to or resulting from the project – will also appear here. Feedback is always welcome!

Copenhagen, Royal Library NKS 1220 fol.

Copenhagen, Royal Library NKS 1220 fol., detail of the start of chapter 4, Njáls saga (f.3v). Photo: SMW.

Funded by the European Commission, the ICELANDIC SCRIBES project is a 2-year investigation of a collection of 17th-century hand-written books commissioned by one man and written out by a small but significant network of scribes. The project considers how these manuscript books are linked with both the rural Icelandic community in which they were produced and the wider networks of literacy and reading culture in early modern Scandinavia. A more detailed project abstract can be found on the About page.

This website is meant to be a place for sharing the results of the project and the resources that are coming out of it, including catalogue descriptions of the various manuscripts in the collection under investigation. Some of the catalogue descriptions will have been created from scratch during the project; others have been built upon and/or modified from existing XML-based catalogue descriptions made available for academic purposes, and this will be noted in each case.

All photos included on this website were, unless otherwise noted, taken by project leader Sheryl McDonald Werronen (SMW) for research purposes and with the permission of the libraries that hold the original manuscripts.

Overall, the information shared on this website is done so under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

And finally, if you find the material here useful and would like to build on it or refer to it in your research or teaching, please do also let me know!

New on the website: An index of texts


Detail of a larger visualization showing the texts Magnús Jónsson had access to in his library; each text is linked to the manuscript(s) in which it is copied. Created by SMW.

Creating an index of the hundreds of different texts preserved in the various manuscripts in Magnús Jónsson í Vigur’s library has been an ongoing process throughout the project. Recently, in addition to preparing the list for publication here on the project website (more on this below), I have been experimenting with visualization tools to see how the texts and manuscripts can be mapped and connected. The above image comes from one such experiment, which I made using Palladio. My hope is to analyse the data further and to draw up my findings for publication, along with full visualizations, once I have a complete list to work with.

While the index is still not complete, close to 400 texts have now been added to a new page on the website (Texts, also added to the website’s main navigation menu). All sagas and major prose texts have been added; much of remains to be added now are individual poems and hymns from a small handful of manuscripts containing poetry, as well as individual very short prose texts (like exempla) found in larger collections of literature.

The index cross-references an alphabetical list of texts against the manuscript(s) they are copied into, and where possible, also links directly to the manuscript catalogue pages (shown in the screenshot below). More links will be added as further manuscript descriptions are completed and added to the website.


Screenshot from the index of texts and the manuscripts that contain them, with direct links to catalogue entries in red.

Presenting project results in Kalamazoo, Michigan

In a few days I’ll be travelling again, this time to the United States, to present some of my findings from the Icelandic Scribes project at the 53rd Annual International Congress on Medieval Studies hosted by the Medieval Institute at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The conference, from 10–13 May, is North America’s largest gathering of medieval scholars across disciplines.

My talk, “Reading Medieval Literature in Early Modern Iceland”, is part of a session on Old Norse-Icelandic Studies sponsored by the Fiske Icelandic Collection at Cornell University. I will discuss what the manuscripts that Magnús Jónsson commissioned for his library can tell us about his attitudes towards Old Norse literature and what might have been his motivation in preserving certain types of sagas. The session will take place on Friday 11 May.

You can see the conference programme online at https://www.wmich.edu/sites/default/files/attachments/u434/2018/medieval-congress-program-2018.pdf


Printed conference programme.

Focus on Patron

Following on from one of my previous posts (Focus on Scribes), this post focuses on the patron who employed those scribes: Magnús Jónsson í Vigur. Just as with Magnús í Vigur’s scribes, one of the main pages of the website provides an overview of his life and influence.

Magnús sits at the heart of the Icelandic Scribes research project as the man who actively collected and commissioned all of the manuscripts I’ve been studying. It was his personal literary and aesthetic tastes, and the choices he made 300 years ago, that have determined the material that I have to work with for my project today.

My research has indicated that as he amassed texts and manuscripts, Magnús í Vigur was not simply gathering together as much literature and other writings as he could get his hands on, but was, rather, interested in forming a collection that impressed when it came to both quantity – the sheer number of texts – and quality – the beauty and fine workmanship of the books. One of the ways Magnús ensured his books would impress was by commissioning title pages for them, some of which are pictured below.

Eight title pages

Eight of Magnús í Vigur’s title pages. Top row (l–r): Reykjavík, National and University Library of Iceland, Lbs 235 fol.; London, British Library, Add. 4869; London, British Library, Add. 4868; Reykjavík, National and University Library of Iceland, JS 43 4to. Bottom row (l–r): Reykjavík, National and University Library of Iceland, ÍBR 5 fol.; London, British Library, Add. 4857; London, British Library, Add. 4859; London, British Library, Add. 11,153 4to (British Library title page photos: SMW; National and University Library of Iceland title page photos: Handrit.is).

The title pages Magnús insisted his scribes add to many of his books moreover praised him as the wealthy local magnate that he considered himself to be, declaring his nobility alongside the value of the texts in the books. The formation of his library was therefore not merely a happy accident resulting from a bibliophile’s need to collect ever more literature. Magnús must indeed have loved books and literature – stories of powerful and influential men of the past, real and imagined alike. But in making his library, it seems he was also making a careful move towards self-consciously fashioning himself as a great patron – and, thus, as a powerful and influential member of his local community. Perhaps in his own eyes, he thought of himself as not unlike some of the heroes, kings, and courtly men he read of in his books.

For more about Magnús, his life, and his family, take a look at the Patron page of the website.

DHN Conference Proceedings Published

I’m pleased to be able to share the conference proceedings for DHN Helsinki (which I wrote about last month here and here). The papers have now been published online through the CEUR Workshop Proceedings website (CEUR-WS.org). This means that my own paper is now available, open access, to read and cite.

You can access my paper directly at http://ceur-ws.org/Vol-2084/shortplus3.pdf

  • McDonald Werronen, Sheryl, ‘Icelandic Scribes: Results of a 2-Year Project’, in Proceedings of the Digital Humanities in the Nordic Countries 3rd Conference, Helsinki, Finland, March 7–9, 2018, ed. by Eetu Mäkelä, Mikko Tolonen, and Jouni Tuominen, CEUR-WS.org (Helsinki, 2018), pp. 179–87.

Abstract: This paper contributes to the conference theme of History and introduces an online catalogue of an early modern library: the main digital outputof the author’s individual research project “Icelandic Scribes” (2016–2018 at the University of Copenhagen). The project has investigated the patronage of manuscripts by Icelander Magnús Jónsson í Vigur (1637–1702), his network of scribes and their working practices, and the significance of the library of hand- written books that he accumulated during his lifetime, in the region of Iceland called the Westfjords. The online catalogue is meant to be a digital resource that reunites this library virtually, gives detailed descriptions of the manuscripts, and highlights the collection’s rich store of texts and the individuals behind their creation. The present paper also explores some of the challenges of integrating new data produced by this and other small projects like it with existing online resources in the field of Old Norse-Icelandic studies.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 654825.

Keywords: Icelandic History, Manuscripts, Online Resources.

You can access the whole volume at http://ceur-ws.org/Vol-2084/

  • Mäkelä, Eetu, Mikko Tolonen, and Jouni Tuominen, eds, Proceedings of the Digital Humanities in the Nordic Countries 3rd Conference, Helsinki, Finland, March 7–9, 2018, CEUR-WS.org (Helsinki, 2018).

Finally, the organisers also collected the abstracts together to give access to those presentations that were not written up as full papers. This book of abstracts can be accessed here: http://heldig.fi/dhn2018/boa.pdf.

Focus on Scribes

London, British Library Add. 4868

London, British Library Add. 4868, detail of an opening initial of a text copied by Magnús Þórólfsson (f.139v). Photo: SMW.

Main scribes

One of the main aims of this project has been to identify, study, and gain a greater understanding of the scribes who copied manuscripts for Magnús Jónsson í Vigur. That’s why a whole section of the website is dedicated to what I call his “main scribes” – four men who appear to have worked most consistently for Magnús í Vigur over a period of time spanning nearly 50 years. Their work was mostly successive, though there was also some overlap between them, and other indications of collaborative work. Such an example can be seen in the image below, where Jón Þórðarson’s contribution (in lighter ink) ends on the verso side of a leaf in the manuscript Add. 11,153 and Magnús Ketilsson’s contribution starts (in darker ink) on the bottom of the same leaf and continues to the end of the manuscript.

London, British Library Add. 11,153

London, British Library Add. 11,153, scribal collaboration between Jón Þórðarson and Magnús Ketilsson (ff.260v–261r). Photo: SMW.

The individual webpages on the scribes Þórður Jónsson, Magnús Þórólfsson, Jón Þórðarson, and Magnús Ketilsson provide basic overviews about their lives and their contributions to their patron Magnús í Vigur’s library. The information there has been drawn mainly from what could be gleaned from the manuscripts themselves and the notes these men left in them. As my research becomes finalised over the next few months, these scribe pages will continue to be updated, just as the individual manuscript pages are being added and updated as they are completed.

More scribes

Beyond the four main scribes, however, we know that others also copied texts for Magnús í Vigur (and that he also copied several manuscripts himself), but the contributions of these other scribes appear somewhat less regularly, or, rather, they are less well documented.

In the introduction to his 1955 facsimile edition of the miscellany AM 148 8vo (Kvæðabók úr Vigur), scholar Jón Helgason argued for up to 12 different hands at work in that single manuscript, although some may be, rather, be examples of different handwriting from individual scribes – what are called Hands 2 and 4, for example, are probably both those of Magnús Jónsson himself, while Hands 3, 7, and 10 resemble each other in some ways, though they have not been associated with any known scribe. The two scribes behind Hands 5 and 11 likewise remain anonymous.

Two of the four main scribes noted above are also among Jón Helgason’s list of 12 hands – Þórður Jónsson (Hand 8) and Magnús Ketilsson (Hand 12) – while other identifiable scribes from the list include the following three men:

1. Hannes Gunnlaugsson (1640–1686) of Reykjarfjörður (Hand 1) contributes a copy of the famous 17th-century Icelandic poet Hallgrímur Pétursson’s polemic poem “Aldarháttur” (Signs of the times) to Magnús’s Kvæðabók. Hannes’ distinctive and careful work – mainly decorative elements including title pages – is also found in the large and impressive saga manuscripts Lbs 235 fol. (the medieval contemporary histories of Sturlunga saga), JS 27 fol. (romance sagas), and AM 426 fol. (sagas of Icelanders), pictured below.


Reykjavík, Árni Magnússon Institute, AM 426 fol., title page (f.1r). Photo: F. Richter.

2. Magnús í Vigur’s (first) father-in-law Jón Jónsson (d. 1680) of Holt (Hand 9) copied, for Magnús’s Kvæðabók, the beginning of Jón Ólafsson Indíafari‘s mid-17th-century Icelandic translation of Claus Christoffersen Lyschander’s verse Greenland Chronicle (Den grønlandske chronica), a work that was first printed in Denmark in 1608. In addition to this, Jón Jónsson is also known to have corresponded with Magnús í Vigur about exchanging books.

3. Another scribe working for Magnús í Vigur was Jón Björnsson, who was active at least during the winter of 1689–90. He signed his work in the manuscript Add. 4857 on 25 January 1690, as pictured below. His hand does not seem to match any of the unidentified hands listed in the Kvæðabók edition, but more work remains to determine the extent of his contribution to Magnús’s library.

London, British Library Add. 4857

London, British Library Add. 4857, detail of Jón Björnsson’s colophon (f.143v). Photo: SMW.

Conference Report: DHN Helsinki

It’s been a couple of weeks since returning from the 3rd annual Digital Humanities in the Nordic Countries conference in Helsinki, Finland, and I’ve finally been able to write up some of my (informal) reflections on it. I attended and gave a short presentation on my Icelandic Scribes project and this website. As I mentioned in an earlier post leading up to the event, this was my first time at a DH conference and I wasn’t sure what to expect. In fact, all kinds of apprehensions filled my mind as I arrived. Would I understand the papers I attended? What about the plenaries? How would my own presentation be received? Surely I’ll get lots of hard questions from the “real” DH scholars…

Happily, I soon realised I had nothing to worry about, and that my contribution to the DH conversation was a valid and welcome one. Despite being a large gathering of about 300 participants, with four plenaries, multiple slots of four parallel sessions, and about 30 poster presentations, the conference had a friendly and relaxed feeling to it, and I met lots of great people.


My presentation was scheduled for the third day of the conference in a session with the title Manuscripts, Collections and Geography. The other three papers preceding my own were all very interesting – “Big Data and the Afterlives of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts” (presented by Toby Burrows), “The World According to the Popes: A Geographical Study of the Papal Documents, 2005–2017” (presented by Fredrik Norén), and “Ownership and Geography of Books in Mid-19th Century Iceland” (presented by Örn Hrafnkelsson) – and I think the session was a success overall.

DHN Presentation Cover Slide

Title slide from the presentation, Friday 9 March.

In addition to my own session, I attended sessions on Historical Texts, Our Digital WorldAuthorshipDatabase Design, and Computational Linguistics, as well as the poster displays, which were introduced with a 1-minute pitch in a whirlwind Poster Slam. The presentations and posters featured lots of interesting material that showcased a range of different projects and experiments, theoretical approaches, and technical tools and systems.

Plenary Talks

The four plenaries were also really interesting and engaging, and I felt that they helped to start each day off on an exciting foot. The first, on the Wednesday, was Open and Reproducible Workflows for the Digital Humanities – A 10,000 Meter Elevation View by Alan Liu (University of California, Santa Barbara). Liu considered, from different perspectives zooming ever further out, questions about applying the principles of open science to humanities projects, in order to make such projects’ data and interpretations more transparent for others to build upon in turn. While acknowledging that the humanities and the sciences are different, with different types of research questions and methods, Liu challenged us to consider how we as (digital) humanists can work more openly and reproducibly in our projects.

Thursday’s plenary, Finding the Human in Data: What Can Digital Humanities Learn from Digital Transformations in Cultural Heritage?, by Kathryn Eccles (University of Oxford), was particularly interesting to me. She began her talk with the statement, “I’m not a DH scholar but…”, and asked how often we’ve heard this, or even might say it about ourselves. I could certianly relate to this sentiment. The point Eccles made in posing this question was well taken – that we and our colleagues all use digital methods and tools, and perhaps more often and more thoroughly than some of us realise. Her focus on the interplay between the digital humanities and cultural heritage more broadly was also thought-provoking. I was especially interested in her examples of the use of online crowd-sourcing to tag and annotate artworks, and the potential for using a modified form of this in teaching, to get students to interact with material culture in different ways.

On Friday, the third and final day, there were two plenaries. The first was by Caroline Basset (University of Sussex, but speaking in a personal capacity due to the then ongoing strike action within UK higher education). In her talk, ‘In that we travel there’ – but is that enough?: DH and Technological Utopianism, she considered, from the perspective of media studies, how the digital, still often thought of as “new” media, already has its own history. Basset discussed imagined and reimagined utopic futures, their disappointing realities in light of the commodification of technology and the future, and argued that hope – or hoping against hope – allows us to break from this by imagining and innovating, causing trouble, and working towards something new.

The last plenary, by Frans Mäyrä (University of Tampere), was on Game Culture Studies as Multidisciplinary (Digital) Cultural Studies. Mäyrä introduced us to current trends in multidisciplinary game studies, including both challenges and successes within this growing field. As someone without any knowledge of game studies, I found it an informative and accessible talk. Some of the issues raised had solutions in common with digital projects in other fields, such as the use of crowdsourcing and cooperation between museums and universities in order to access and study older games that require otherwise obsolete technology.


At the end of the conference a number of awards were given out. There were three awards each for Best Poster and Best Paper, as well as three Open Science Awards; I was surprised and humbled to receive one of these for my paper! The criteria taken into consideration for the Open Science Award were the project’s availability of data and source code, the potential for reuse by the wider community, and the overall quality of the work. I feel so very honoured to have the digital aspects of my research project acknowledged in this way!

DHN Open Science Award

DHN’s Open Science Chair Leo Lahti (left) announcing the winners of the Open Science Award. Photo: SMW.


I’ll end this report on the conference with a photo I took of the Lutheran cathedral in the centre of Helsinki. It also lies in the midst of several university buildings. We were lucky enough to have this great view each day, on our way between venues.

Thank you once again to all of the organizers, and I look forward to both attending and (probably) helping behind the scenes at next year’s DHN Conference, which will take place in Copenhagen.

Helsinki Cathedral

Helsinki Cathedral. Photo: SMW.

A Copy of Sníðúlfs ævintýri: Copenhagen, Arnamagnæan Collection AM 578 i 4to

Last month I wrote a short introduction to Rask 33, one of the manuscripts in the Arnamagnæan Collection in Copenhagen, which may have had a connection to Magnús Jónsson í Vigur. Here I’ll highlight another manuscript in the same collection, AM 578 i 4to, part of which, like Rask 33, was copied by one of the main scribes who worked for Magnús Jónsson í Vigur. Again, the connection to Magnús as a potential patron or owner of the manuscript is as yet unclear, but it has been interesting investigating the manuscript as another example of the handiwork of one of Magnús’s many copyists. The scribe in question this time is Magnús Ketilsson, the last to work for Magnús í Vigur, and the text in question is a short tale known as Sníðúlfs ævintýri.

Sníðúlfs ævintýri is an exemplum (plural: exempla), that is to say, a short tale commonly used in preaching. Many tales of this kind survive from throughout the European Middle Ages, in Latin and vernacular languages, including Old Norse. Although the exemplum contained in AM 578 i 4to was copied at the end of the seventeenth century (probably around 1696–1700) in Lutheran Iceland by a scribe who went on to be a Lutheran minister, the text’s origins go back to the Catholic Middle Ages and the story of the life of St Gangulphus.

Copenhagen, Arnamagnæan Institute, AM 578 i 4to

Copenhagen, Arnamagnæan Institute, AM 578 i 4to, the end of Sníðúlfs ævintýri copied by Magnús Ketilsson (ff.2v–3r). Photo: SMW.

As interesting as it would be to be able to connect this particular copy of the story to Magnús Jónsson’s library, we can actually already be certain that he had other copies of the same story in different manuscripts: two copies of slightly different lengths are preserved in the manuscript Add. 11,153 4to, and a third copy is in Add. 4859.

I recently wrote about this manuscript in more detail for the Arnamagnæan Institute’s series Manuscript of the Month (Månedens Håndskrift) for March 2018 and you can read about it on their website in either English (manuscript.ku.dk) or Danish (haandskrift.ku.dk):

“A Scribe’s Favourite Exemplum?”

“En skrivers yndlingshistorie?”

Presenting the project at DHN Helsinki

I’m travelling to Helsinki, Finland next week to attend the 3rd annual conference of the Association of Digital Humanities in the Nordic Countries / DH i Norden from 7–9 March. Organised by the Helsinki Centre for Digital Humanities (HELDIG) at the University of Helsinki, the main conference theme is “Open Science” with sub-categories focused on “History”, “Cultural Heritage”, “Games”, and “Future”.

On Friday 9 March, I’ll be presenting a short paper falling within the conference’s sub-theme of “History”. I will share some of the results of the Icelandic Scribes project, focusing on this website as the project’s main digital output. I will also touch on some ideas for more effective collaboration among existing and future digital resources in the field of Old Norse-Icelandic studies. My paper has been accepted for publication in the conference’s official proceedings, and I will share this after the event, when it becomes available.

DHN 2018 will be my first Digital Humanities conference, as I come from a more traditional Humanities background (medieval literature and cultural studies). I’m looking forward to the opportunity to have productive discussions about this and other projects, and to learn more about wider issues in Digital Humanities.

The full conference programme is available to browse at https://www.conftool.net/dhn2018/sessions.php.


Official conference poster, DHN Helsinki 2018. Used with permission.

A Copy of Mágus saga jarls: Copenhagen, Arnamagnæan Collection MS Rask 33

One of the manuscripts in the Arnamagnæan Collection in Copenhagen that may be connected to Magnús Jónsson í Vigur is Rask 33, the majority of which was copied by Magnús í Vigur’s scribe Þórður Jónsson, in 1680. Þórður’s copy of the romance Mágus saga jarls is decorated in a similar manner to many of the other sagas copied for Magnús í Vigur, and it seems very likely that this saga was also intended for him.

Copenhagen, Arnamagnæan Institute, Rask 33

Copenhagen, Arnamagnæan Institute, Rask 33, the end of part 1 and beginning of part 2 of Mágus saga jarls (ff.38v–39r). Photo: SMW.

This manuscript was not part of Árni Magnússon’s original collection, but was added to the collection in the nineteenth century after the death of the Danish linguist Rasmus Rask (1787–1832), along with over 100 other Icelandic manuscripts that he had owned. How the manuscript eventually made its way from the Westfjords of Iceland where Þórður copied it to become part of Rask’s collection is unknown, although the name of a previous owner, Ólafur Ólafsson, was written several times along with two place names and dates – Jódísarstaðir and Ánastaðir – and three dates – 1794, 1798, and 1811.

I wrote about this manuscript for the Arnamagnæan Institute’s Manuscript of the Month (Månedens Håndskrift) series in August 2017; you can read more about it on their website, in English (manuscript.ku.dk) or Danish (haandskrift.ku.dk):

“Medieval Romance in Early Modern Iceland”

“En middelalderlig riddersaga i det tidligt moderne Island”