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How Old and New Media Influenced Each Other and Society in Iceland during the 16th and 17th Centuries

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Old and New (How Old and New Media Influenced Each Other and Society in Iceland during the 16th and 17th Centuries)

Reporting period: 2015-06-01 to 2017-05-31

Today we live in a digital age. Pupils use mobile phones and laptops instead of pen and paper. Students use google instead of libraries and encyclopedias. The change of media is, however, not totally new: nearly six hundred years ago Gutenberg invented the printing press, which came to supplant manuscripts, hand-written books. And like today, the new medium, print, did not supplant the old medium, manuscripts, immediately. Rather, it was a slow process that involved not only influence from the old medium on the new, but also the influence of the new medium on the old.

The latter, the influence of the new medium of print on the old medium of handwriting has never been examined before. By analysing these media and social changes of the past we will understand similar, current developments better.

The objectives of this project concerned:
a) The influence of a new medium on an old, existing medium.
b) The utilisation of features of the new medium to achieve specific aims and goals.
c) The impact of this utilisation on society.

Methods to conduct the study of title pages and their sociological impact included content analysis from literary studies, quantitative codicological analysis from book and manuscript studies and iconographic/iconologic analysis from art history.

I focused on Icelandic manuscripts written from the 16th and 17th century. Print came around 1530 to Iceland but manuscript production did not stop after that because there was only one printing press in the country which furthermore belonged to the Church. The Church had no interest to print anything else than religious and edifying books. Everything else, even law books, had to be copied by hand. Nevertheless, manuscript production grew to new quantitative and qualitative heights. These younger manuscripts include features of printed books. The focus of this EU-funded project was on title pages, as they are a truly innovative feature of printed books that we also find in post-Gutenberg manuscripts.
"There are c. 2,000 relevant manuscripts, c. one tenth of which have a title page. Title pages in manuscript differ from title pages printed books: most importantly, they are not printed, but handwritten, and they often appear somewhere in the middle or towards the end of a manuscript, instead of just in the beginning. They often contain information that is only relevant for a specific part of the manuscript but not for the whole and hardly ever state the year and place of production.

The oldest title pages appear in legal, computistic, administrative, rhetorical and school manuscripts. They were written by the best-educated, wealthiest and most influential people of Iceland, and it becomes clear that this media change came ""top down"".

I selected two textual genres for an in-depth analysis: hymns and mythical-heroic sagas. The former appear in print as well and thus have printed counterparts for comparison. The latter were not printed in Iceland until the nineteenth century. The two sample groups provide therefore excellent examples of various media developments.

Almost one third of all hymn manuscripts contain one or more title pages. A large number of them are connected to one family: Hólmfriður Sigurðardóttir (1617-92) and her children, particularly her son Magnús Jónsson í Vigur (1637-1702). Suprisingly, though, most of the hymn manuscripts do not refer to the medium of print: only very few title pages state if or when they were copied from printed editions. Instead, they often refer to music, eg. with titles such as ""Mouth harp: a collection of spiritual songs "". Scribes or patrons are only seldomly mentioned. Decoration is rare and consists mostly of pen-flourished initials similar to decoration on printed title pages.

The second group, title pages of manuscripts containing myhtical-heroic sagas, brought very different results. Less than 10% contain a title page, they are younger than hymn manuscripts. Hoever, sseveral of them were ordered by one person: Magnús Jónsson í Vigur, already mentioned above. His title pages depict him in a very positive light. Decoration conists often of geometric, interlaced frames.

In general, we can see that title pages appear more often with textual genres that appeared in print as well, such as hymns and religious texts. The development of title pages shows similarities to the general development of manuscripts: computistic and legal texts were first written down and were among the first to incorporate title pages; there is an increase in both manuscript and title page production in the 1660s, 1680s and around 1700; and they both are often connected to the upper echelons of society. It seems that the patrons wanted to emphasise and reassure their high standing in society with their laudatory descriptions on title pages.

I presented my project and project results at several national and international conferences and organised a two-day international conference. I taught at the International Summer School in Icelandic Manuscript Studies and published one article in a conference volume and one in a handbook. I currently prepare a book on title pages and two more articles. My research was also introduced in articles for newspapers and the home page of my host institution, as well as in an interview for Ö1, Austria’s main radio station for culture that can boast with up to 650,000 listeners. Together with two colleagues, I held a workshop at the “Lange Nacht der Forschung” (open day at Austrian research institutions, over 180,000 visitors nationwide and c. 12,000 in our location in Vienna) in April 2016.
My project results increased our knowledge about Icelandic printing and manuscript developments, and more generally, about Icelandic culture and society. It increased our understanding of media changes in the past and thereby hopefully provide us with possible parallel developments of media changes in the future. It provided insight into the ways elements of new media were incorporated into existing media and how they were utilised. It was the first systematic survey of its kind in Iceland and, concerning the influence of books on post-Gutenberg manuscripts, internationally. It was also one of the first systematic studies that combine approaches from book and manuscript studies, literary studies and art history.

My outreach and dissemination activities provided important interfaces between research and society. My radio interviews and web articles inform the Austrian and Icelandic societies about my project and its implications for their societies. Through teaching and conference presentations I furthermore connected researchers, including future researchers and early-stage researchers, from different fields and institutions.

The data of this project will form the basis of my future project on paper and paper trade in Iceland. The information on paper quality, date and place of manuscript production and on scribes and commissioners can be utilised for such a research, as well as similar research. My analysis of title pages in Icelandic manuscripts from the 16th and 17th centuries proves thus to be very fruitful and valuable.
(c) Jóhanna Ólafsdóttir