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Final Report Summary - IITLMI (Identity, Ideology and Textual Production in Late Medieval Iceland)

Results and conclusions
Transfer of knowledge and skills
The project’s objectives were to add to the researcher’s understanding of, expertise in and potential to disseminate knowledge about the literature, culture and textual production of medieval Iceland, and the way literary texts shape and reflect identity and ideology.
During the outgoing phase, the fellow carried out research and received training and mentoring at Harvard University. In addition to receiving subject-specific and career advice, she taught undergraduates under the mentorship of the scientist in charge, Prof. Stephen A. Mitchell. She also curated an exhibition of Icelandic manuscripts at the Houghton Library at Harvard under the guidance of one of the library’s curators. At Harvard, the fellow attended and participated in academic seminars, attended professionalization workshops and completed a pedagogy course aimed at developing teaching proficiency and methods. The training and mentorship received at the outgoing institution has strengthened the fellow’s proficiency in both research and teaching, and increased her ability to disseminate knowledge and research findings. It has yielded complimentary skills which contribute to career development, teaching proficiency and international collaboration.
During the reintegration phase, the fellow conducted research, received mentorship, presented her findings in academic contexts and to the public, and participated in the beneficiary’s daily activities. She co-edited the Institute’s annual peer-reviewed journal and contributed to a book aimed at general readers. She was interviewed for a newspaper and magazine and wrote an article for a newspaper. She also advised documentary film makers about her field of expertise.
In sum, the goals outlined in the description of work have been fulfilled during the three years of the fellowship. The fellow has acquired extensive knowledge of late medieval Icelandic literature of a variety of genres, non-literary sources, manuscripts, materiality and textual variance. The analysis of a number of different fields has been integrated throughout the fellow’s research and publications to outline a comprehensive and detailed analysis of the late medieval period’s literary culture, and to arrive at a deeper understanding of identities and ideologies current in the period. The fellow has also acquired research methods from postcolonial and other critical theories and applied it to this material in order to explain some of the ideas about power and international matters apparent in textual culture in late medieval Iceland.
The research activities have yielded three scientific articles already published or submitted to journals that are on the Arts and Humanities Citation Index (compiled by Thomson Reuters), one article in an edited volume aimed at students, one article in draft and a partially completed monograph. During the three years of the fellowship, the fellow has presented the results of her research and disseminated the knowledge gained in guest lectures at universities, and in conference presentations at several national and international conferences and workshops. She has engaged with the public and disseminated her work online in open access.

Results and conclusions
The main results that the project has yielded are a more comprehensive and deeper understanding of identity and ideology in late medieval Iceland, a period that has been critically neglected until recently. Authors, redactors, commissioners and audiences responded to the world and events around them in various ways, including through the composition and consumption of literary texts, and consequently, manuscript production. Thus the project has focused on recovering what meaning various subjects and groups attributed to the world around them by analysing the physical appearance and ownership of the manuscripts they produced, the texts they wrote in these volumes and the historical circumstances from where they emerged, weaving together all three strands of this research to arrive at a comprehensive understanding of the period. In addition to literary production, the study has confirmed that the manuscripts themselves and their size, layout, decorations and other paratextual features tell a story about their owners and commissioners. These attributes can be interpreted to add yet another layer to the analysis, showing the hierarchy of written texts in the period. Through the analysis of literary texts and their manuscripts along with non-literary sources, an overall picture of the main literary forms and narrative themes current in the period has been drawn. Further, by focusing on variables that shape identity, particularly gender, region, social status and religion, the research has uncovered variation and nuances in identities and ideologies subscribed to by various different social groups, instead of painting all of Iceland’s culture with the same brush.
The project has shown that groups living in different regions in Iceland had many values in common, but it has also thrown light on divergent world views, attitudes, preoccupations and interests. Some groups were interested in local history and heroes and defined themselves against influences from abroad which were seen as a threat, while others had an international, cosmopolitan identity, aligning themselves with foreign power and ideas. Pro-monarchical ideological stances open up questions about a postcolonial identity, partly based on hybridity and mimicry, concepts applied from postcolonial theory. Mixed feelings about the presence of foreigners in the country and efforts to prevent immigration, as well as substantial emigration of Icelanders to England - a development which has only recently come to light due to a new database - is reflected in the ambivalent treatment of these subjects in narrative sources. Thus, the project has shed light on some of the ideological responses and developments that took place in late medieval Iceland regarding foreign power, whether formal rule or informal ideological and cultural influence.
The study has also shed light on women’s history, highlighting that women sponsored manuscript production and could use their literary sponsorship to influence identity and ideological positions. Through the analysis of the ownership and use of manuscripts, the research shows that women had an important teaching role in the household, i.e., instructing their children not only how to read and write but in ethical matters. Looking at the images of women in literary texts, gender roles were clearly an important and much-discussed issue and the preoccupation with the abduction or rape of women, recurring in late medieval sagas and ballads, suggest anxieties about the presence of foreigners in the country and the danger they present to the indigenous population. However, these narratives also reveal the perennial patriarchal attitude to women as property that can be stolen or damaged.
People belonging to a certain group, e.g., the same social class or region, do not always have the same identity, nor did all people of the same gender. One of the project’s most important finds is the added knowledge and understanding of discrete identity categories, and how they intersect to shape the subjectivity of medieval Icelanders. The project has shown that by analyzing literary texts in their manuscript contexts and alongside other texts produced at the same time and place, we can recover the ideas that people living in different parts of Iceland in the late medieval period had about themselves and the outside world, partly depending on their ancestry and lineage, social position, gender and ethical or religious values, and how these variables were configured within different communities and individual subjects. The final results of this project will thus be a holistic account of manuscript production and literary culture in late medieval Iceland, bringing all of the different genres that were circulating in the period into conversation with each other and with international developments.

Socio-economic benefits
The fellow’s presence at both host institutions and participation in conferences has created multiple links between the fellow, the Árni Magnússon Institute, and a large group of scholars and their institutions on both sides of the Atlantic. These links have the potential to yield future collaboration and exchanges. The transfer of skills and knowledge has added to the fellow’s ability to create and disseminate new knowledge.
Europe as a whole is going through an unprecedented period of rapid socio-economical changes and difficulties. Iceland, with its economic crash in 2008 and subsequent political turmoil, is no exception. The community as a whole has arguably experienced an identity crisis about its core values, history, and relationship to Europe and the world. Further, although Iceland is a world leader on gender equality, full equality has not been reached, and the better we understand the ways in which gender has circumscribed people’s lives in the past, the more we can do to address current issues. Regional matters are at the forefront in Iceland as in many other countries in Europe and the research carried out in this project has crucially addressed local cultural identities. So too has it touched on global issues such as immigration, free movement of people and human trafficking. Academics can play an important part in the debate about all these issues by communicating and disseminating their knowledge outside academia, and thus the foreground of this project and the fellow’s past and future public outreach will contribute to a wider discussion about an array of current issues. The themes on which this project has come to centre – including regional and local vs. international and centralised power, immigration/emigration, human trafficking, and women's autonomy and sexuality – are both culturally specific and common to many cultures and time periods, and they are crucial to understand in our current world. By analyzing the themes of late medieval Icelandic literary texts in combination with their historical and manuscript contexts, the project has uncovered a more nuanced picture of Icelanders’ identity and ideology in the late medieval period than was previously available. The more we understand the development and continuity of these topics, the more can be done to challenge outdated myths about the past and eradicate inequality in all its forms.

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