Wordmongers : post-medieval scribal culture and the case of Sighvatur Grímsson
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The subject matter of this thesis is manuscript and scribal culture in the age of print. Its first part explores the flourishing scholarship of post-medieval scribal culture in Europe and beyond over the past 25-30 years, as well as recent trends and turns in the historiography of printing and of literacy. These studies make a strong case for a radical revision of how these fundamental cultural phenomena should be viewed. As a part of the so-called cultural turn and postmodernist revisionism of the 1980s and 1990s, the new trend has been to reject the dichotomies of manuscript versus print and of literacy versus illiteracy in favour of more ambiguous and complex images where multiple media and modes of transmission and reception coexist and interact with each other. The second part of the thesis deals with literary culture in nineteenth-century Iceland: both the general framework of the production, dissemination and consumption of texts, and the individual case of the farmer, fisherman and scribe Sighvatur Grímsson (1840-1930) and his cultural surroundings. Focussing on Sighvatur’s life between 1840 and 1873, the thesis presents an argument about the function of the scribal medium within a poor, rural, and de-institutionalized society. Central to the theoretical framework is a microhistorical approach and the juxtaposition of both narrow and wide scope, zooming from one individual protagonist out to his local surroundings and communities and further out to Icelandic scribal and literary culture as a whole. The scope of the thesis can be described in terms of four concentric circles: the individual, his intimate community, Icelandic society, and the wider European and global context during the ‘post-Gutenbergian era’.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy