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An Icelander among the Gaels: A Study of Grímur Thorkelin (1752-1829) and his Gaelic Manuscripts

Project description

Grímur Thorkelin legacy in Gaelic studies

The Icelandic-Danish scholar Grímur Thorkelin (1752-1829), whose native language was Icelandic, played an instrumental role in Gaelic literature and culture in 18th century Europe. Thorkelin focused on Ireland, the Isle of Man and Gaelic-speaking Scotland, assembling a considerable collection of manuscripts from both the Middle Ages and early modern period, which remains important for understanding Gaelic history in Britain and Ireland. The EU-funded Thorkelin project aims to record and catalogue the collection. The project will also study the role of Thorkelin as an international collector and the influence he exercised on ethnic and cultural identity perception in the 18th century.


This project focuses on the Icelandic-Danish scholar Grímur Thorkelin (1752-1829) and his contact with the literature and culture of the Gaelic-speaking world in the late-eighteenth century. Commissioned by the King of Denmark to travel through Britain and Ireland in search of historical material relating to the history of Scandinavia, Thorkelin took a particular interest in the Gaelic culture of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. This contact is primarily evidenced by his substantial collection of Gaelic-language manuscripts, both medieval and early modern, now preserved in Copenhagen's Royal Library. This project, in the first instance, seeks to document and catalogue these manuscripts and to open their contents up to further study. It also addresses a number of questions raised by the collection. These include the dynamic between manuscript and print in Gaelic and in Thorkelin's native Icelandic. Thorkelin's role as as international patron of scribes and collector of manuscripts will also be addressed. As an historian, Thorkelin's framing of Gaelic history, and indeed his framing of Icelandic and Scandinavian history in Britain and Ireland, exerted considerable influence on the eighteenth-century conceptions of ethnic and cultural identity, this will be addressed in relation to Scotland in particular. This project therefore takes Thorkelin and his important collection of Gaelic manuscripts, using them as a prism though which to examine questions relating to contemporary eighteenth-century concerns, most especially around literary and scribal culture. Home to experts on manuscript studies, textual philology and Icelandic Studies, the Arnamagnæan Institute, within the Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics at UCPH is the only place where I would want to carry out this research which will push the intellectual, national and disciplinary boundaries of the current 'state of the art' of Gaelic manuscript studies.


Net EU contribution
€ 207 312,00
1165 Kobenhavn

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Danmark Hovedstaden Byen København
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 207 312,00