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 — even in cases where the question of there ever having been an original could be said to be doubtful, or irrelevant — 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, processes involving potentially large numbers of people over long periods of time. 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 current research projects include studies of 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.

Stories for all time, Silvia Hufnagel and M. J. Driscoll

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, initiated by me but compiled principally by the ever assiduous Silvia Hufnagel (pictured here). A volume of essays emanating from the project, The legendary legacy, has recently appeared in the series The Viking Collection.

Other research projects and networks in which I have recently 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 also participated in the EU-funded projects MASTER (Manuscript Access through Standards for Electronic Records, 1999-2001), CHLT (Cultural Heritage Language Technologies, 2002-2005), ENRICH (European Networking Resources and Information concerning Cultural Heritage, 2007-2009) and DARIAH (Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities, 2008-2011).

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, as well as the monograph The unwashed children of Eve: The production, dissemination and reception of popular literature in post-Reformation Iceland (London, 1997).

Some recent publications:

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

I am joint general editor (with Margaret Clunies Ross, Annette Lassen and Ármann Jakobsson) of The Viking Collection: Studies in Northern Civilization, published by the University Press of Southern Denmark, and a member of the editorial board for the series Medieval Narratives in Transmission: Cultural and Medial Translation of Vernacular Traditions, published by Brepols. I am also a member of the advisory boards of several 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, 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.

Some recent and forthcoming appearances:

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: 2018-10-16