M. J. Driscoll. Photo: Nigel McDowell, Ulster University

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.

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.

From 2011 to 2015 I was head of the research project Stories for all time: The Icelandic Fornaldarsagas, funded by the Velux Foundation, the aim of which was to survey the entire transmission history of the Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda. The project’s chief deliverable was 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, along with a fully searchable bibliography of editions, translations and secondary material (available here). A volume of essays emanating from the project, The legendary legacy, appeared in 2018.

A new project, which began in 2020, is called the Book of Books and focuses on the Libro de los epítomes, a collection of summaries of around 2000 books from the library of Hernando Colón (1488-1539), son of the navigator Christopher Columbus. Long thought to be missing, the Libro was in 2019 identified among the manuscripts in the Arnamagnæan Collection. The project's chief deliverables are a bilingual (Latin-English) critical edition of the Libro, to be published by Oxford Univeristy Press, and a database of the books summarised in the Libro hosted by the Consortium of European Research Libraries. Principal funding for the project has been provided by the Carlsberg Foundation and a private donor.

And recently, my colleague Peadar Ó Muircheartaigh of the University of Edinburgh and I recieved funding from the Edinburgh–Copenhagen strategic partnership seed fund to continue our research into the Danish-Icelandic scholar and antiquary Grímur Jónsson Thorkelin (1752–1829). Our project, entitled Grímur Thorkelin and the septentrionalist republic of letters, seeks to reassess Thorkelin's work within the context of late 18th-century interest in things Northern, with particular focus on his extensive scholarly network. In the years 1785 to 1790 Thorkelin travelled widely through Britain and Ireland, subsidised by the Danish king, in search of materials pertaining to Forfædrenes Handlinger (the deeds of our forefathers). He had a particular interest in Scotland; he travelled extensively there and cultivated many Scottish correspondents, taking an interest in both Gaelic and Scots.

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 was subsequently integrated into 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), and in 2017 I completed the Certificate in Irish language from Ulster University.



Hidden harmonies: Manuscript and print on the North Atlantic fringe, 1500-1900 (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2021)

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 þỏgla (Reykjavík, 1992), Ágrip af Nóregskonungasǫgum (London, 1995, 2nd ed. 2008) and Fjórar sögur frá hendi Jóns Oddssonar 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 (Enfield Lock, 1997). Among my recent publications is a volume of essays I edited with Nioclás Mac Cathmhaoil of Ulster University entitled Hidden harmonies: Manuscript and print on the North Atlantic fringe, 1500-1900, published in the series Bibliotheca Arnamagnæana. The essays explore post-print manuscript traditions in Ireland, Gaelic-speaking Scotland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, with particular emphasis on the interaction of the two media. In a recent review of the volume, the Scottish scholar Ronald Black writes: Tha mi a’ moladh Hidden Harmonies gu làidir. Tha a h-uile nì a th’ ann math. (I strongly recommend Hidden Harmonies. Everything in it is good.)

For a complete list of publications, 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 the Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies Bulletin, published by the Hiob Ludolf Centre for Ethiopian Studies at Hamburg University, and Digital philology: A journal of medieval cultures, published by Johns Hopkins University Press. From 2003 to 2019 I was joint general editor of The Viking Collection: Studies in Northern Civilization, published by the University Press of Southern Denmark.


Conferences and workshops:

Pre-Covid, I got 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. 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 and manuscript cataloguing.

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

I have for years been involved in the organisation of the conference The care and conservation of manuscripts, held every two years here in Copenhagen, and have edited the last eight volumes of the conference's proceedings, published by Museum Tusculanum Press. 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 and Valentin Silvestrov. I’m quite fond of Bach, too. And John Coltrane.


Last update: 2024-02-14