M. J. Driscoll

M. J. Driscoll

Den Arnamagnæanske Samling
Institut for Nordiske Studier og Sprogvidenskab (NorS)
Københavns Universitet
Njalsgade 136 & Emil Holms Kanal 2
DK-2300 København S


KU staff profile
ORCID: 0000-0001-9662-1271

I am Professor of Old Norse Philology (norrøn filologi) at the Arnamagnæan Institute, a research centre within the Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics at the University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Humanities.

From September 2016 to August 2017 I was Leverhulme Visiting Professor at Ulster University, attached to the Irish and Celtic Studies Research Institute at Magee College in Derry.

I am also Affiliate Professor at the Faculty of Icelandic and Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Iceland.

Research interests:

Title page of Lbs 896 4to, Ein nitsa[mle]g Sögu og Rímna Bók, til fródleiks og skémtunar af ímsum samanteknnar af fornum frædibókum og framandi Ritgjördum, hefur að Giöf Lögrettumannsins Monseiur Thorkéls Jóns sonar Anno 1791 þann 15. Janúari med rettu eignast Sigrijdur sál. Sigurdardóttur Hansen; written 1756-75 by Þorkell Jónsson á Hrauni.

My research interests include manuscript and textual studies, particularly in the area of late pre-modern Icelandic. But where traditional textual criticism sought to establish on the basis of the surviving manuscripts of a given work the text closest to the original, I prefer to see each manuscript not as a flawed representation of a putative Urtext but rather as a text in its own right, just as worthy of study as any other. I believe furthermore that no text can be dissociated from its physical embodiment, and that one must therefore always look at the whole book — including features such as format, layout, script, decoration and binding, as well as the surrounding texts — and the material processes through which it was produced and consumed. By shifting focus from the origins of literary works to their materiality — their existence as artefacts, shaped and reshaped by human hands — I believe we can achieve a better understanding of the structure and mechanisms of the production, dissemination and reception of not just of the chirographically transmitted Icelandic material with which I have chiefly worked, but of texts of any kind, from any place or period.

My on-going research projects include studies of scribes such as Guðbrandur Sturlaugsson á Hvítadal (1820-1897) and Magnús Jónsson í Tjaldanesi (1835-1922), both from the Breiðafjörður region of western Iceland, ordinary people with little or no formal education who, seemingly for their own pleasure, spent much of their time copying out texts of all kinds, principally sagas, some going back to the middle ages, some more recent, the bulk of which never made it into print but circulated entirely in handwritten form.

Another major project has been Stories for all time: The Icelandic Fornaldarsagas, a four-year research project funded by the Velux Foundation the aim of which has been to survey the entire transmission history of the Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda. The project’s chief deliverable is an electronic catalogue of all the manuscripts in which Fornaldarsaga texts are found, containing information on their format and layout, the other texts they contain and, where known, when, where and for and/or by whom they were written. Ancillary to this is a fully searchable bibliography of editions, translations and secondary material. A volume of essays emanating from the project, The legendary legacy, appeared in the series The Viking Collection in 2018.

A new project, set to begin in April 2020, will focus on the recently discovered Libro de los epítomes, a collection of summaries of the books in the library of Hernando Colón, son of the famous navigator Christopher Columbus. Long thought to be missing, it was recetly identified among the manuscripts in the Arnamagnæan Collection. The project's chief deliverable will be a digital edition of the Libro, as well as a bilingual (Latin-English) critical edition in print form, which will include an introductory series of essays placing the book and Colón's library in its historical context. Funding for the project has been provided by the Carlsberg Foundation.

Other research projects and networks in which I have been involved include Medioevo Europeo — Medieval Cultures and Technological Resources, a four-year project (2011-2015) with funding from COST; NeDiMAH (Network for Digital Methods in the Arts and Humanities), a four-year research networking programme (2011-2015) funded by the European Science Foundation; and Dansk editionshistorie, a four-year project (2011-2015) focusing on the history of scholarly editing in Denmark, with funding from the Velux Foundation.

I have, in addition, a long-standing involvement in the work of the Text Encoding Initiative. I served on the TEI Council from 2001 until 2010, during which time I acted as chair of the Task Force on Manuscript Description (2003-5), whose job was the definition of a module for the description of text-bearing artefacts, and of the Personography working group (2006-7), which was charged with defining special purpose elements for the markup of biographical and prosopographical data. The work of both these groups has been integrated into the latest version of the TEI Guidelines, TEI P5.


Academic qualifications:

I hold degrees from the University of Stirling (BA (Hons.) 1979), Háskóli Íslands (Cand.mag. 1988) and Oxford University (DPhil 1994). I also have a certificate in Practical Bulgarian (level A1) from the Cyril and Methodius University of Veliko Turnovo (2004) of which I am particularly proud (not least as it included eight hours instruction in Bulgarian folk dancing). And recently I completed the Certificate in Irish language from Ulster University.



Mirrors of virtue: Manuscript and print in late pre-modern Iceland (Copenhagen: Musuem Tusculanum Press, 2017)

My publications include articles on various aspects of pre-modern Icelandic literature, editions and translations of a number of medieval and post-medieval Icelandic works, including Sigurðar saga þögla (Reykjavík, 1992), Ágrip af Noregskunungasögum (London, 1995, 2nd ed. 2008) and Fjórar sögur frá hendi Jóns Oddsonar Hjaltalín (Reykjavík, 2006), as well as the monograph The unwashed children of Eve: The production, dissemination and reception of popular literature in post-Reformation Iceland (London, 1997). My colleague Margrét Eggertsdóttir of Stofnun Árna Magnússonar and I recently edited a collection of articles entitled Mirrors of virtue: Manuscript and print in late pre-modern Iceland (Copenhagen, 2017).

For a complete list, including links to those available on-line, click here.

I am a member of the editorial board for the series Medieval Narratives in Transmission: Cultural and Medial Translation of Vernacular Traditions, published by Brepols, and a member of the advisory boards of various journals, including Gripla, published by Stofnun Árna Magnússonar in Reykjavík, the Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies Bulletin, published by the Hiob Ludolf Centre for Ethiopian Studies at Hamburg University, Digital philology: A journal of medieval cultures, published by Johns Hopkins University Press, and the Journal of the Text Encoding Initiative.


Conferences and workshops:

I get around a fair bit, and have given lectures and organised or participated in workshops and summer schools in some 25 countries, principally in Europe, but also places further afield, such as North America, Australia, Russia, Japan and Turkey. The lectures and conference papers have generally been on topics relating to Icelandic manuscripts, while the workshops have mostly dealt with various aspects of text encoding.

For a complete list of invited lectures and conference papers click here.

I am co-organiser, with Ragnheiður Mósesdóttir, of the conference The care and conservation of manuscripts, held every two years here in Copenhagen. In 2004 Anne Mette Hansen and I inaugurated the Arnamagnæan summer school in manuscript studies, held alternately in Copenhagen and Reykjavík.


Other interests:

M. J. Driscoll

Since the late 70s I have dabbled in photography, mostly land- and cityscapes, as well as things of the peeling paint school; it has always seemed to me that, in the right light, there are few things more beautiful than corrugated iron (the image shown here, of a roof in Fjólugata, Reykjavík, was taken in the summer of 1981).

Apart from that, and drinking wine, I have no hobbies worthy of mention. I do, however, have enthusiasms; these currently include, but are not limited to, music by contemporary composers such as Arvo Pärt, Pēteris Vasks, Urmas Sisask, Valentin Silvestrov, Sofia Gubaidulina and Giya Kancheli. I’m quite fond of Bach, too. And John Coltrane.


Last update: 2019-12-09