Administrative Literacy in Late Medieval Iceland
Thursday, January 30th, 2014, at 16.30
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Icelanders started to produce and keep registers, charters, inventories, and other administrative documents in larger and larger numbers. The study of the interconnected topics of orality and literacy has long been of interest in the context of Old Norse literature. However, the question of administrative literacy—the use of written contracts and inventories as an administrative or legal tool—has yet to be addressed in the Icelandic context.
One of my primary research questions is to identify the people or institutions most closely involved with documentary production in the fourteenth century. Early Icelandic documents were written and used by people from many different backgrounds, both secular and clerical. At the same time, these documents may reveal connections between people that would otherwise be undetectable. Part of my project then is to identify networks of people involved in documentary production, as well as identifying regional or local centres of written production.
In this paper, I will present some of the results of my initial study, a pilot project involving just over one hundred documents dating from 1280 to 1398. I will discuss some of the trends and research questions brought to light from the pilot study, and share my initial findings.
Erika Sigurdson is a historian and postdoctoral fellow at the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies. Her research focuses on administrative literacy and the Church in fourteenth-century Iceland.