top of page


Paper and Book History in Post-Medieval Europe

Keynote lecture 1: Heather Wolfe (Folger Shakespeare Libary, Washington D.C.)

"Reconsidering John Spilman’s paper legacy and the English white paper market"

Most of England’s white paper came from France in the Elizabethan and early Stuart periods. In an unsuccessful 1585 petition for a monopoly on paper-making, the printer Richard Tottel complained that the French continually sabotaged English paper-making efforts by flooding the market with French paper at a loss and exporting English rags into France. The problem of a lack of a domestic paper supply was finally solved by John Spilman, the queen’s jeweler, in 1588. Spilman established a writing paper mill in Dartford, Kent and was granted a patent for the exclusive production of white writing paper, a monopoly on linen rags and other scraps, and the right to prevent others from establishing similar mills without his license. 

It has always been assumed that Spilman quickly abandoned making writing paper because he could not compete against imported grades, either in price or quality. An examination of surviving manuscripts with his watermark suggest otherwise. Spilman’s writing paper was highly regarded as early as 1590, when Mr. John Danett, a newly-appointed deputy muster master in Dublin requested that his boss, Sir Thomas Williams, send him a supply of John Spilman's paper from London, which is "very large and very good," compared to the “very dear & very Scant & very bad” paper in Dublin. The price for this paper was actually slightly cheaper than regular imported pot writing paper: 3.3 pence vs. 4 pence per quire. 

Spilman was not the only paper entrepreuner in England at the time. Sir Thomas Holcroft’s unsuccessful 1605 petition to the king for a 21-year license to search imported paper in order to eliminate abuses accused importers of sending reams with fewer, and more defective, sheets, than was allowable. He calculated that if just one sheet were missing per quire in a thousand reams, that would result in forty reams, or 20,000 sheets, of missing paper. Holcroft promised that his proposal would improve upon “the great prejudice and inconveniences lighting upon your Majesties poor subjects by bad, torn, and naughty paper mingled with the good, As all Clerks, Printers & Scriveners do daily find in their own experience.” He accuses papermakers both “with in the land or with out,” with “strangers or Englishmen, as bear no due affection and duty” to the king, perhaps referring to Spilman or other, as yet unidentified, English papermakers. 

This talk will explore the impact of Spilman’s paper mill on English paper awareness and connoisseurship, and suggest that his products were a source of national pride for people that were previously unaware of the technology of papermaking.  It will also show that Spilman’s paper was much more ubiquitous than previously believed, falling somewhere between elite Venice paper and everyday French pot paper in terms of use. 

Thursday 5 May, 9:30, National Museum

Keynote lecture 2: Dana Sajdi (Boston College)

"Damascus: a city in words"

We cannot think of the Renaissance without thinking of the painted landscape, without relating it to the idea of art, without imagining civilizational grandeur, and without understanding the period as a uniquely European phenomenon.  In this address, I will focus on an Arabic-Islamic tradition of prose representations of Damascus, which I call “prose cityscapes” to show how the emergence of this textual practice had more to do with specific socio-economic and political changes and that the omission of images of space representations had nothing to do with any essential features of religion and culture.  I will demonstrate how the emergence of the genre of the prose cityscape and its writer, the professional Muslim scholar, in the 12th century bears remarkable similarities with the appearance of the painted landscape (and later cityscape) and its new practitioner, the professional painter, in the Renaissance. This comparison between the Arabic word and the European image serves to open paths for comparison, undermine historical exceptionalism, and deflate civilizational paradigms.

Thursday 5 May, 13:30, National Museum

Presentations (in alphabetical order)

Davíð Ólafsson (University of Iceland, Reykjavík)


"Many pages, much ink: the materiality of writing in nineteenth century Iceland"

The enduring existence of scribal culture in Iceland throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth has been a well-recognized, but at the same time relatively little-studied phenomenon, up to the turn of the twenty-first century. The term scribal culture in this context refers to the everyday practices of production, dissemination and consumption of texts in handwritten form, for the most part performed by and for ordinary people with little or no formal education or status.

Sighvatur Grímsson Borgfirðingur (1840–1930) was an active scribe and lay-scholar for over seven decades and can be considered one of the most prominent and productive in the field. A substantial portion of his vast writings and transcripts – made both for himself and others – is now preserved in the Manuscript department of National and University Library of Iceland, notably due a bilateral agreement from 1906 where Sighvatur bequeathed all his current manuscripts and future writings in return for a yearly stipend. This archive of handwritten books and documents that he composed, copied, or compiled throughout his life contains little short of 200 items and is estimated to come to around or over 100.000 pages in total.

The conditions of how and where Sighvatur – or other agents of these popular literacy practices – obtained various instruments for their massive production of textual matter is largely unknown. In this talk I will explore dispersed clues on this aspect, found in Sighvatur Grímsson’s documents. This paper will touch upon and converge numerous of the topics and questions proposed for the conference, incl. paper trade as a part of social and economic history, private paper buyers, history of books and book collections, object biography, and agents involved in acquisition and circulation of manuscripts and books.

Friday 6 May, 9:00, National Museum

Geoffrey Day (Winchester College)

"Frost Fairs and Laki: paper-making, printing, and the climate in eighteenth-century London"

Making paper by hand—and printing on hand-made paper—are weather-sensitive. The wildly fluctuating weather of eighteenth-century London is most clearly seen in the frequent Frost Fairs and the years immediately following the eruption of Laki in 1783-84. Letters and printed sources will be cited to demonstrate the effects of these and other major weather events, and the problems and frustrations experienced by papermakers, printers and authors.

Thursday 5 May, 11:00, National Museum

Paul M. Dover (Kennesaw State University, GA)

“The impacts of paper’s abundance, 1450-1650: an episode in coevolution”

The period 1450-1650 has been identified as the locus for a host of revolutionary transformations: ‘a print revolution’, a ‘communications revolution’, a ‘scientific revolution’, a ‘correspondence revolution’, and even a series of ‘knowledge revolutions’ associated with new media, the discovery and rediscovery of new sources of knowledge in ancient text and new worlds, and new epistemologies shaped by empirical outlooks. In my forthcoming book, The Information Revolution of Early Modern Europe: Worlds of Paper (Cambridge University Press), I argue that this multi-pronged narrative of change merges around a central concern: information and its management. It was paper that was the container and conduit for the lion’s share of Europe’s new information flows, and the handling of paper instruments became quotidian for a broad swathe of Europeans: this was the period that invented the notion of ‘paperwork.’ The responses to the accumulation of information on paper in this age were chiefly yet more processes on paper – as Markus Friedrich has put it: ‘in early modern Europe, control of knowledge not only meant control of paper, but also control by paper.’

Friday 6 May, 11:00, National Library

Gunnar Marel Hinriksson (National and University Library of Iceland, Reykjavík)

"The Paper Thief, the Headmaster and Comet C/1652 Y1"

Among the letters of bishop Brynjólfur Sveinsson (AM 268 fol.), we find a case involving one of the students at the Skálholt Latin school in Iceland, Jón Pálsson, who had sold stolen paper to his schoolmates around Christmas time 1652. Jón made good business by helping himself to the school’s paper supply right from the headmaster’s quarters, and in total 23 students bought the stolen paper he peddled. Because of this crime, Jón was expelled from the school and is mostly lost from history after that.

The headmaster, Gísli Einarsson, was a remarkable figure. He was a mathematician and astronomer and the first Icelander to study mathematics at university in Copenhagen and later the first to teach it at the Latin schools. Nothing survives of his own writings, but an account exists of his observation of the comet of 1652 – the comet that might have helped Jón Pálsson to steal the paper from Gísli’s quarters.

A list of students who bought the stolen paper and how much they bought is included in the testimony documented in the bishop’s letter journal, along with a description of the execution of the theft. In the talk I will discuss the details of this case, the amount of paper stolen and its estimated value and how the theft might have influenced the lives and carriers of those involved.

Friday 6 May, 11:00, National Library

Martina Hacke (University of Düsseldorf)

"Agents connecting the book markets of Basle, Paris and Lyons in late medieval times: the example of the agents of Johann Amerbach"

There was a central business relationship between the markets of Basle, Paris and Lyons in the late Middle Ages as a result of the distribution of book printing. This connection was maintained to a large extent by agents. They were employed by, for example, the well-known Basle-based publisher and printer Johann Amerbach (1430–1513).

Amerbach’s agents from the 1480s included Wolfgang Lachner (approx. 1460-1465–1518), Johann Wattenschnee (approx. 1485–no later than 1543) and Peter Mettlinger (*approx. 1440). In their capacity as agents they worked for Amerbach as sales representatives, middlemen and distributors. One of their tasks was to promote the sale of his books. To do this, they not only had to seek out the trade fairs in Paris and Lyons, where commission-based business took place, but also in Wattenschnee’s bookshops “At the sign of Basle” in both cities. Other tasks of Amerbach’s agents were to obtain manuscripts for him, as he needed them for his editions, for example, his major Augustine edition.

The agents of Amerbach were not working for him as their main jobs. They did this parallel to their own actual professional work, as printers, publishers or travelling booksellers (“Buchführer”). For that reason it was in their own interest to search out the book markets and important trade fairs of that era. The motivation for working as an agent for Amerbach was thus directly linked with their own work as merchants. The synergy produced in this way was a specific feature of the economy at that time in this professional sector.

Thursday 5 May, 15:00, National Library

Halldóra Kristinsdóttir (National and University Library of Iceland, Reykjavík)

Rannver Hannesson (National and University Library of Iceland, Reykjavík)
Jón Kristinn Einarsson (Columbia University, New York City)

"Manuscript production in 17th-century Iceland: The case of Hannes Gunnlaugsson"

Hannes Gunnlaugsson was an Icelandic farmer, student, barber surgeon, and scribe who lived in Reykjafjörður in the late 17th century. Born around 1640, Hannes was the son of Kristín Gísladóttir and Gunnlaugur Snorrason, a priest who owned a somewhat considerable amount of land. Hannes graduated from the Latin School in Skálholt around 1660–1661 but was found guilty of adultery shortly after that and lost his ministerial rights. Hannes was vindicated by Bishop Brynjólfur Sveinsson in 1667, but never became a priest. Apart from his genealogy and a sodomy violation, biographical knowledge of Hannes is limited. We believe that a codicological examination of his manuscripts can add to our knowledge of the scribe Hannes Gunnlaugsson. By focusing on this one particular scribe, we hope that further light is also shed on the scribal community he belonged to.

There are eleven extant manuscripts written or illuminated by Hannes. In addition, there are two manuscripts that might be illuminated by Hannes and two manuscripts for which his involvement is contested. Although his extant corpus of manuscripts is not very large, it is still relatively diverse. There is e.g. a judgement book, a chronicle, some genealogical tables, and two medical manuscripts. The size of the manuscripts is furthermore varied (folio, 4to and 8vo).

In this paper we will talk about this corpus of manuscripts and examine Hannes’ role in their production; what kind of texts he transcribed and for whom, and better locate him within the scribal community in late 17th century Ísafjarðardjúp. To do this, we have analyzed the watermarks and paper in his manuscripts, with a special focus on a peculiar law miscellany, Lbs 228 fol.

Friday 6 May, 14:00, National Museum

Harpa Rún Ásmundsdóttir (University of Iceland, Reykjavík)

"From oral transmission and single sheets of paper to systematic collection of poetry"

The Icelandic poet Jón Jónatansson was born in 1829 in the Westfjords of Iceland. By the age of six he composed one of his first poems and continued composing poems and rímur throughout his life. Though he did not receive any formal education he learned to read and write and used that knowledge to write down his poetry and traded them occasionally for essential goods. He worked as a fisherman, had 15 children with his wife, Ingibjörg, was very poor and did not have a stable home for the most part of his life. He used his ability to write and compose poems to write commemorative poems upon request which, along with his rímur, earned him a status among his contemporaries. At an old age, around the year 1900, he started to write down his poetry systematically in addition to writing his autobiography in 1907.

In the lecture I will focus on the last twelve years of Jón’s life, from 1900–1912, but these years he spent his time writing down the majority of his preserved manuscripts. Influenced by the scribe Sighvatur Grímsson Borgfirðingur, he tried to collect all his material to write it down and store it all at the same place. By the time he died, he had only written down around 20% of his poetry, which is now preserved in manuscripts at the National Library of Iceland.

Friday 6 May, 9:00, National Museum

Neil Harris (University of Udine)

"Watermarks and descriptive protocols: Briquet reloaded"

It is common to go to paper and watermark conferences and here one particular name uttered without a jot of explanation. The great “He who shall only be named” of watermark scholarship. Of course, most of it is envy. What this one scholar achieved is insuperable and the greatness of his work is such that our best reaction is to pretend that it is the elephant in the room. We can see it but it is not really there. A new project however, Briquet Reloaded, is taking the man on. The idea is very simple. Identify in archives and libraries the watermarks he traced a century and more ago, go find them, photograph and describe them with modern methods, including the recovery of his original tracings in the archive at Geneva, and attach them to an online repertory. The experience has led to the elaboration of a new descriptive protocol, based on the recognition of moulds rather than just watermarks and above all the analysis of watermarks as twins.

Friday 6 May, 9:00, National Library

Silvia Hufnagel (Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, Reykjavík)


"The rise of paper: An overview of paper provenance and use in 15th and 16th-century Iceland"

Paper was introduced to Iceland in the first half of the 15th century and had replaced parchment and wax tablets by the end of the 16th century. In the first part of this paper, I will present how the earliest paper was used in administration and for ephemeral texts, such as letters and drafts, where paper was produced and who the people were who introduced the new writing material to Iceland.

In the second part of the presentation, I will explore paper in 16th century Iceland. Based on watermark analysis, I will present where and when paper used for Icelandic charters, books and manuscripts was produced. An analysis of economic trade will provide information on the networks that were involved in paper trade. A specific focus will be on Bishop Guðbrandur Þorláksson (1541-1627), who required paper for three main purposes: as writing paper for the Latin school at Hólar, for his printing press, and for his official and private administrative business and correspondence.

Friday 6 May, 14:00, National Museum

Indriði Svavar Sigurðsson (University of Iceland, Reykjavík)

"The mirror in miscellanies"

What can a single miscellany tell us about its writer and his or her worldview? That was the question I found myself asking after opening a random manuscript from the National Library of Iceland. Immediately, I was taken aback by the breadth of knowledge on display. Prose-Edda, human anatomy, botany, witchcraft, the workings of blimps and the dangers of smoking tobacco where some of the subjects handpicked by one man dictated by nothing other than his own interest.

I soon found out that this miscellany, simply titled Lbs 4452 4to in the Manuscript Department, originally belonged to an 19th century farmer named Árni H. Hannesson who, like many of his contemporaries, moved from his home in rural Snæfellsnes to the ever-growing Reykjavík in search of a better life. There he died a poor man around the turn of the century but not without leaving behind a large collection of manuscripts that are now part of the manuscripts in the National Library Archives. Most likely Árni would have been viewed as an outcast in his time, but now it is clear that he belonged to a wide group of lay-scholars working around Iceland. This was a large group of mostly self-educated and self-motivated peasants with deep desire for learning not being satisfied by formal institution for various reasons, instead operating by coping and collecting immense amount of handwritten text long after the advent of the printed medium.

A big part of the Icelandic literary practice was the collecting and writing of these so-called miscellanies. Not unlike “commonplace books”, miscellanies refer to manuscripts consisting of different texts varying by the owner. However, unlike commonplace books miscellanies received widespread use among Icelandic scribes. Nevertheless they have rarely been a subject of historical research. Instead, they are often seen simply as repeats, rewrites or incomplete versions of well-known texts picked at random without any rhyme or reason; a steppingstone in search for connections to other works in the accepted textural canon.

In this paper I argue, in line with Harold Love’s thesis of scribal publication, for approaching miscellanies as a published work with an author and a specific goal and purpose in mind. That way miscellanies could be seen as important egodocuments not a junkyard of detangled text but instead a mirror that reflects not only worldview of the scribe him or herself but also the world around them.

Friday 6 May, 11:00, National Museum

Ermenegilda Rachel Mueller (University of Iceland, Reykjavík)

"Describing watermarks in TEI-conformant XML"


The majority of digital catalogues that include paper manuscripts and early printed books use TEI-conformant XML. TEI currently offers tools to describe the material support of such sources, among which a watermark element. However, these tools are not sufficient to
describe paper and watermarks at the level of detail that is needed for the identification of paper types. Moreover, they are not fit to represent information about paper and watermarks in a structured manner. The present contribution will introduce a TEI customization for the description of paper and watermarks based on the international standard for the description of paper, watermarks and paper molds in relational databases (IPHN 2.1.1, 2013). This customization enables the inclusion of detailed and structured information about paper in standard TEI descriptions of handwritten and early printed sources (msdescription module). It allows users to describe paper types and watermarks and enter information about paper makers and paper mills. Including this information in TEI descriptions of paper manuscripts and early printed books makes it more accessible to users of digital catalogues. Moreover, it standardizes the representation of paper and watermarks data in TEI, so that they can be mined and compared with the contents of digital watermarks databases. It would not only benefit paper historians by allowing them to better localize paper and watermarks in catalogues, but also facilitate the use of watermarks for dating and contextualizing catalogue items.

Friday 6 May, 9:00, National Library

Sonja Neumann (Deutsches Museum, Munich)


"Mechanizing handmade paper: traditional and modern paper production in 19th-century Europe"


In the course of the Industrial Revolution, which gained momentum in the 19th century, the development in the field of papermaking appears to be of particular importance, featuring all criteria of technical progress. Moreover, the development and establishment of the paper machine and the industrial production of paper evoked striking social upheavals in the field of media and communication. But it becomes interesting when one leaves the meta-level of the progress narrative. The transition from handmade to machine-made paper does not seem so smooth in its fundamentals and results—for the origin and history of industrial paper production is in a constant state of tension with the tradition of centuries of manual papermaking. This lecture is not only about the differences between handmade/machine-made paper and their production processes, but about interactions: Therefore, a focus is also placed on the development of a paper machine that imitated handmade paper.

Thursday 5 May, 11:00, National Museum

Pádraig Ó Macháin (University College Cork)


"Paper and the format of Irish manuscripts"

In Irish tradition, vellum manuscripts dominate until c. 1600, when paper becomes all-pervasive as a manuscript material, and vellum disappears. The change was one from home-produced to prefabricated and imported. The format of surviving vellum manuscripts varies according to the such considerations as purpose (personal or patron's book), vellum quality and availability. The format of the paper manuscript, however, may be determined by the type of paper on the market at the time. This contribution will report on the results of an examination of a representative number of Irish manuscripts from the 16th and 17th centuries, with a view to establishing how the introduction of paper in regular sizes became one of the factors that influenced change in the format of Irish book.

Friday 6 May, 11:00, National Library

Chiara Palandri (The National Library of Norway, Oslo/Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, Milan)

Nina Hesselberg-Wang (The National Library of Norway, Oslo)

"Missale Nidrosiense, 1519 - an archaeological approach"

The art of letterpress printing was introduced to the Norwegian book-production in 1519. It was the Archbishop Erik Valkendorf (ca. 1465 – 1522) of Nidaros (Trondheim) who initiated the printing of two books, Breviarium Nidrosiense and Missale Nidrosiense, on the purpose of standardizing the liturgy for the entire country. He commissioned the printing of the Missale to the Danish printer Poul Ræff. Missale Nidrosiense is regarded as one of the most exquisite Danish letterpress print before 1550. The books are part of Norway’s Documentary Heritage, and since 2012 listed among the Norwegian contributions to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme.
In 2019, the 500-years anniversary for the first Norwegian printed books was celebrated throughout the country.

We wish to submit fresh results from our research concerning materiality aspects of one of the 1519-publications, the Missale Nidrosiense. Our research is based on three copies belonging to the National Library of Norway’s collection, and implements visual and multispectral analysis of the paper properties, watermarks, printing techniques for text and illustrations, including red and black printing inks. We have examined the bookbinding structures and their execution, the finishing decoration on the leather cover, in addition to the metal furniture. We have described the bindings’ attributes and physical features, and registered similarities and differences. Pigments and metal components are analysed with X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF). The wooden boards have gone through dendrochronological analysis by computer tomography (CT) scanning.

We have chosen an archaeological approach to provide evidence in order to establish possible dating and origin, and our aim is to supplement the insight to the books’ biography.

Thursday 5 May, 15:00, National Library

Ilaria Pastrolin (École nationale des chartes, Paris, and University of Udine)

"Paper history and watermark studies: a European network before Europe, through Charles-Moïse Briquet’s labor."


“Pour pouvoir assigner la provenance de certains papiers à une fabrique déterminée, alors que le filigrane ne la désigne pas d’une manière évidente, il faut, il me semble, procéder par voie d’élimination ; exclure successivement tous les filigranes connus pour appartenir à l’étranger ; conserver ceux qui seront reconnus pour être indigènes et chercher à rattacher ces derniers à leur lieu de production. Mais pour faire ce travail d’élimination, il faudrait posséder ce qui a été fait dans les pays avoisinant la Suisse : France, Italie, Allemagne, Pays-Bas et c’est ici que les matériaux me font défaut.” Genève, 1 juin 1880, Charles Moïse Briquet à Anatole de Montaiglon.

For well over a century watermark studies have been dominated by a single name, Charles-Moïse Briquet (1839-1918), whose chef d’œuvre “Les filigranes” (1907) reproduced 16,112 designs. In recent years Briquet has gone digital in the Briquet Online project, originally conceived by the LAMOP (Laboratoire de Médiévistique Occidentale de Paris), now hosted on the “Bernstein. Memory of Paper” resource of the Austrian Academy for Sciences, which has systematically been adding other early repertories, as well as furnishing a collective search engine for other watermark websites. A new project, “Briquet Reloaded”, returns to the original watermarks traced by the great Swiss scholar in his extensive travels, in order to bring them into a digital environment, with two case studies relating to Lyon and Udine. Plans are in course to attach new descriptive entries to those already available in Briquet Online.

What still needs and deserves to be explored is the historical figure of Briquet himself. This paper will present the reconstruction of Briquet’s journeys and the backstage of his titanic repertory.

Friday 6 May, 9:00, National Library

Dana Sajdi (Boston College)

"Coif and tell: the barber historian of Damascus in the eighteenth century"


While barbers are considered loquacious in most cultures, one Shahab al-Din Ahmad Ibn Budayr (fl. 1762), a practicing barber from Damascus, dared to go beyond banter to translate his speech into writing. And it was not any written speech, but the Damascene barber produced a chronicle, that is, a history book. History had customarily been the purview of professional scholars, who due to their knowledge of the religious sciences and Islamic law constituted a hegemonic group with state and civic functions. My presentation will examine Ibn Budayr’s life and work as an example of a new phenomenon that took place in the 18th century Levant (the Arabic-speaking Eastern Mediterranean), a phenomenon that I have called “nouveau literacy.”

Friday 6 May, 11:00, National Museum

Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon (University of Iceland, Reykjavík)

"The page: textual embodiment"

Pages offer a particular form of ‘thingness’. The page is made by a person who gives it a particular power. The page is structured by a certain person and affects the mind, the thoughts and the self. The page transmits embodied connectedness, if someone else gets to look at it. The page creates a specific form of ‘textual embodiment’. The page is made of extant paper and ink. The process of writing or drawing up an art piece gives us an opportunity to reflect on the way we create our ideas – how the art is placed on the page; where the artist was when he or she created the art piece; how they make excuses for their primitive motives, etc. The page provides an important evidence of the impact that such an ‘object’ made on people. This presentation will deal with the research model that I have called the ‘textuaral enviornement’ and is related to the history of emotions. The plan is to lay out how the page, as an phenomena, can affect our lived experience in everyday life. In short, parts of real-life embodied logic interact with abstract mental faculities in ways that has been overlooked; how does a page with a ‘text’ affect our mental being and bodily function? I do not promish solid answers, but an attempt to lay out the problems related to the use of ‘textual embodiment’.

Friday 6 May, 9:00, National Museum

Beeke Stegmann (The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Research, Reykjavík)

"Paper use and reuse in early 18th-century Iceland and Denmark"

The manuscript collecting activities of Árni Magnússon (1663–1730), an Iceland-born professor at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, involved a substantial amount of paper. His library with thousands of books and charters, made of both paper and parchment, would later become one of the most important Scandinavian manuscript collections. Árni used paper for the accumulation, organization and modification of his collection. This presentation focuses on Árni Magnússon’s use of paper when curating his collection. As some pieces of paper are found to have been over 100 years old when he employed them, Árni’s paper use is investigated with regards to reuse. Selected leaves are analysed in detail for their production, primary and secondary use, and the percentage of paper reuse is shown to differ depending on the purpose. The present contribution considers Árni’s use of paper from a material point of view and analyses the material by means of watermarks. It further considers a variety of contexts, including the curation of parchment manuscripts as well as charter copies. This study provides insight into the modes of paper usage and ownership by an educated and well-connected scholar in early 18th-century Iceland and Denmark. Despite the collector’s extensive use of paper, the study suggests that it was considered a valuable resource at the time and was employed with care.

Friday 6 May, 14:00, National Museum

Maria Stieglecker (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna)

"Traveling books: Johannes of Speyer as scribe, author and translator"

As an example of the late Middle Ages, the story I would like to tell is more or less timeless and also could have taken place in later times. It is about Johannes of Speyer and the books that he wrote himself and took with him when he joined the convent of Melk Abbey. This story is one of those fortunate coincidences where we have enough information to show the correlation of the biography of objects with the biography of their producer and owner.

If we look at the watermarks of some of the manuscripts now kept in Melk’s famous monasterial library, we can follow the path paper can take from the place of use to the place of storage: during his time at the University of Heidelberg Johannes of Speyer copied texts, as was customary at the time, and brought these volumes to Melk Abbey. As a proponent of the Melk reform, we also know him as an author and translator who brought important reform texts into German so that the lay brothers could understand them as well.

The material aspect of these manuscripts, together with biographical references to the author and writer, gives us the opportunity to tell this little story of where and under which circumstances these manuscripts were written, travelled to their final destination, and received some stepbrothers.

The texts transported on various paper reflect the personal situation of the author and writer as well as his personal development. In addition, they correspond to the changes for the Benedictine Order that were so typical at the time.

This example is also used to discuss the possibilities of watermark analysis as well as various features of the Watermark Information-System (WZIS: and Watermarks of the Middle Ages (WZMA:

Thursday 5 May, 15:00, National Library

Anna Svensson (Uppsala University)

"Plants in paper: revisiting the early herbarium as history of the book"

The extensive seventeenth and eighteenth-century Micheli-Targioni herbarium (the Botanical Section of the National History Museum, University of Florence) is a valuable botanical resource for the thousands of specimens it contains, dating from a crucial period in the history of the scientific study of plants. It is also, however, a fascinating example of what Anke te Heesen has termed paper technologies, including gluing, cutting, sewing, pinning, manuscript and print, binding and unbinding. As a collection of herbaria compiled by different people, it has been added to and rearranged: one volume has simply been cut up, with big chunks of the page removed with the plant; loose sheets containing holes (sewing needle or possibly pins) and faint plant imprints were once part of a herbarium. A manuscript catalogue by Pier Antonio Micheli (1679-1737) has since been unbound, but still retains fragments of plants once pressed between its pages. These examples provide an insight into the processes of collecting, preserving and ordering plants in the context of the library. Along with folded seed packets, correspondence, loose labels, experiments in botanical illustration, nature print, and printing new botanical genres, they demonstrate how successful the juxtaposition of plants and paper became.

This presentation draws on a wide range of early modern pressed plants in paper – both complete collections and loose plants, both bound and unbound – to demonstrate the hybridity, diversity, and experimentation of the paper worlds of pressed plants, which I argue were essential to the circulation of plants through and beyond the more static bound hortus siccus collection. This is part of an ongoing project on the early modern history of pressing plants as a form of marginalia, being sensitive to the ways in which the historian’s access to plant fragments and traces are mediated through botanists, conservators, antiquarians, librarians, digitisers and archivists.

Thursday 5 May, 15:00, National Museum

Viðar Hreinsson (Icelandic Museum of Natural History/Stefansson Arctic Institute, Reykjavík)

"Harsh nature in tattered manuscripts"

Environmental humanities and ecocriticism have become prominent over the last few decades. On a metaphorical level, manuscript culture can be regarded as organic growth, natural in the sense that it is a complex, decentralized process of reproduction, re-creation and eventual decay rather than exponential accumulation. The paper will touch upon these aspects of manuscript culture, as well as trajectories of litarary works through these organic processes – all the way to print, or not – by describing examples of neglected poetry on nature and environment:

In the early 19th century in particular, scribes and writers collected and processed huge amounts of poetry. Examples of these are Þorsteinn Þorsteinsson (1792–1863) and Gunnlaugur Jónsson (1786–1866) from the lay scribal community of Skagafjörður in the north of Iceland, and, especially, Páll Pálsson (1807–1877), nicknamed “The Student“ who volunteered for decades at the National Library of Iceland. These collections are of particular interest in that that they are representative of poetic traditions that never reached the nationalistic literary canon established in the late 19th – early 20th century. However, some of these poems were gathered in collections produced by ordinary people.

I have browsed the registers of 80 volumes of poetry collected and copied by Páll Pálsson. These include 50 volumes of 17th through 19th century manuscripts that he collected and bound, and 30 volumes of poems that he copied. Each volume has registers of titles, first lines and authors (when known). While going through these registers, I selected many poems that reflect aspects of, or approaches to, environment and nature. The paper will conclude with a brief analysis of one distinct branch of poetry. This covers perils, travels and descriptions of routes. This branch of poetry is particularly interesting as it provides first hand testimonies of often difficult struggles with forces of nature. A prominent example of this kind of poetry (and in fact available online: is a verse-letter by farmer and fisherman poet Hallvarður Hallsson (1723–1799), containing important local knowledge of geological events from the year 1744.

Friday 6 May, 11:00, National Museum

bottom of page