The Árni Magnússon Manuscript Collection
Árni Magnússon (1663–1730) started collecting manuscripts in 1685 and continued to do so for the next four decades. He was born and raised in Iceland but left for Copenhagen around the age of 20 to study, and lived and worked there for the rest of his days, though he did return to Iceland for shorter and longer periods of time. Part of his collection was lost in the Great Fire of Copenhagen in 1728, but Árni and his assistants managed to save much of the collection, among it most of the valuable vellum books. Árni bequeathed his collection to the University of Copenhagen after his death, and that is where the manuscripts were kept for the next centuries. Icelanders fought long and hard to reclaim the manuscripts and in 1961 Denmark and Iceland brokered a deal, which was finalized in 1986, to divide the collection between them. The manuscripts were transferred little by little to Iceland, and the last ones were handed over in a formal ceremony at the University of Iceland on the 20th of June 1997. The Arnamagnaean Institute in Copenhagen still preserves a part of the collection and collaborates with the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies in Reykjavík on various projects. These two institutes preserve the Arnamagnaean Manuscript Collection that was added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2009, and is said “to preserve priceless manuscripts on the history and culture of the Nordic Countries, and in fact a large part of Europe, from the Middle Ages to the new age.”¹ The collection is now being digitalized and on the 21st of April 2010, the Icelandic Minister for Education, Science and Culture officially opened the website, handrit.org, which provides access to each and every available manuscript and information about it. This project, which is a collaborative effort of the Árni Magnússon Institute, the National Library of Iceland and the Arnamagnaean Institute in Copenhagen, will be discussed further in the chapter on digital media.
Summary of Icelandic Literary History
Published on Jul 23, 2012