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Paleography & Philology

Manuscript Research
The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies is a leader in manuscript research in Iceland. The manuscripts in the institute’s care derive from several collections. A number of the manuscripts are still maintained as part of the Arnamagnæan Manuscript Collection in Copenhagen, while other Icelandic manuscripts are maintained in various collections around the world.
The Institute’s Collections
After the transfer of manuscripts from Denmark was completed in 1997, the institute holds 1666 manuscripts and partial manuscripts from the collection of Árni Magnússon (1663–1730), who was a professor in Copenhagen and antiquarian, including the manuscripts of Konráð Gíslason, Magnús Stephensen and Stefán Eiríksson, in addition to 1345 original Icelandic historical documents and 5942 apographs. There are an additional 141 manuscripts from the National Library of Sweden as well. From the outset it was understood that the repatriation of the documents could take up to 25 years, as all the manuscripts were photographed before being transferred and many underwent preservation treatments. The transfer was completed on June 19, 1997, a little over 26 years after the first documents reached Iceland on April 21, 1971.

The institute has also been given numerous manuscripts and manuscript fragments from private collections, including the manuscript collection of Rev. Bjarni Þorsteinsson, a collector of Icelandic folk music. Likewise, the institute has acquired several manuscripts put up for sale aboard. These acquisitions are catalogued under the collection code SÁM, which includes 176 manuscripts. The most well known of them is the Codex Scardensis, a 14th century vellum manuscript that was acquired in London and returned to Iceland by a consortium of Icelandic banks in 1965. The institute also holds the Þorsteinn M. Jónsson manuscript collection. In addition, the National Archives of Iceland has entrusted the institute to maintain most of the vellum fragments in archives’ holdings.
Arnamagnæan Manuscript Collection Named to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register
The Arnamagnæan Manuscript Collection was among the 35 entries chosen for inclusion on July 31, 2009, on the Memory of the World Register by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The aim of the Memory of the World program is to underscore the importance of preserving the world’s documentary heritage by identifying individual collections that represent significant contributions in preservation efforts. Iceland and Denmark made the joint nomination of the Arnamagnæan Manuscript Collection to the program. The collection itself is divided between the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies in Reykjavík and the Arnamagnæan Manuscript Collection in Copenhagen.

UNESCO’s inclusion of the collection highlights the importance of manuscripts from a global perspective while recognizing their enduring relevance around the world.