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A major aim of Life of Paper is to establish where and when the paper used in Icelandic manuscripts was produced. For this, we use watermark analysis, including measurements and placement of watermarks on chain lines. To capture watermarks, we use a hyperspectral camera from the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF. The images are then registered in the Wasserzeichen-Informationssystem database and compared to other, dated watermarks in databases, which will hopefully lead to finding places of production and dates ante et post quem of paper used in Iceland.

To determine the age of manuscripts with unclear or no watermarks, we use Infrared spectroscopy, a method that has been used successfully applied in heritage science to determine the age of prehistoric wood, straw and bark but also parchment and paper. This non-destructive method measures molecular vibrations induced by a specific amount of energy. On the basis of the resulting spectrum we can determine the chemical components and thereby the molecular decay of the material. 

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For the next stage in the life cycle of paper, paper use, we analyse the structure of manuscripts with codicological methods. First, we analyse the quire structure in connection with watermark placement and textual content. This helps us to establish how manuscripts were built, if the textual contents were written down subsequently or separately, if the manuscripts were made according to a predetermined plan or were put together later. We also establish if the manuscripts were made from one paper stock or from multiple, smaller sources, which will give indications regarding the availability of paper in Iceland. We visualise the results with the open access system VisColl (set link).

One case study focuses on the paper uses of Brynjólfur Sveinsson, Bishop of Skálholt from 1639 until his death in 1675. His extant books of correspondence (bréfabækur) and of visitation (vísitatiubækur) serve as point of reference. We analyse manuscripts written by him, his scribes and others associated with him, particularly the prolific scribe Jón Erlendsson í Villingaholti (c. 1605-1672). We compare paper in the various manuscripts in order to establish if the same or different paper was used, and therefore if the bishop supplied the scribes with it. The analysis also helps us to establish possible relative chronologies of manuscript production, and to investigate if the scribes used large or small paper stocks.

Another case study focuses on the manuscripts of Hannes Gunnlaugsson (1640-1686), a farmer and part of a scribal community in the Westfjords, North-West Iceland. Based on watermark analysis, we analyse manuscripts that are connected to him; we hope to clarify uncertain cases and to establish a relative chronology of his manuscript production. We also compare the paper used in Hannes’ manuscripts to manuscripts written by other scribes at the same time in the Westfjords. To provide better insight into the import and distribution of paper in the Westfjords, we compare the paper in Hannes’ manuscripts and in manuscripts from other scribes of this area.

With these two case studies, we also compare the paper use of two contemporary men in Iceland and their scribal communities to identify potential differences in paper use and manuscript production with regard to educational, geographical and societal backgrounds.

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To determine the last stage of the life of paper, reuse, we use archival, codicological and palaeographical methods. We search Árni Magnússon’s apographs for reused paper materials, such as in wrappers, as well as the bindings of Icelandic books and manuscripts, where reused paper occurs as pastedowns or flyleaves. We analyse if the times of reuse correlate with specific historic events, such as famines, war or trade embargos. In cases where it is known who reused the paper, we also establish possible correlations between the observed reuse and social spheres and geographical location. Through textual analysis we examine possible correlations between reuse and text genre.

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This project is housed at the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies in Reykjavík

and receives funding from the Icelandic Research Fund (228695-051).

Paper production
Paper use

In this 3-year-project we will examine the multiple life cycles of paper from

a) production, which is in itself a process of recycling, to
b) primary use as writing support and
c) secondary use or recycling of the material.

We analyse when and where paper used in manuscripts was produced, how much time passed between paper production and paper use, whether large or small paper stocks were available, and if there are geographical, temporal and societal differences in paper use. For this, we will use watermark analysis with hyperspectral imaging as well as codicological analysis and material decay research, using infrared spectroscopy. The results will be added to Wasserzeichen-Informationssystem and Read more here.

In two case studies, we focus on the paper use of two men from 17th-century Icelandic history, who differ in their geographical setting and educational and societal background: Bishop Brynjólfur Sveinsson (1605-1675) and Hannes Gunnlaugsson (1640-1686). We compare the paper use of these two men and their scribal communities to identify potential differences in paper use and manuscript production with regard to educational, geographical and societal backgrounds. Read more here.

In a third case study we analyse reused paper material in book bindings and accompanying Árni Magnússon’s apographs. This case study will give valuable information on patterns of secondary use and modes of reuse, along with possible correlations between paper reuse, historic events and textual content. Read more here.

Paper reuse
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