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  • Dalur Júlíuson

New Publication! Compassing the Earth in an Icelandic Encyclopedia


Diagrams may be knowledge in visual form, but they are also material things, whose designs sometimes made use of the physical properties of their manuscript in making their arguments.

I'm delighted to have a chapter in a wonderful new book published by the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, titled A World in Fragments: Studies on the Encyclopedic Manuscript GkS 1812 4to. This book is about a medieval manuscript very dear to my heart. The manuscript with the shelf mark GkS 1812 4to contains between its covers a whole world of knowledge; a complex assemblage of texts and images on a vertiginous array of topics, assembled into a single volume (bound in seal skin) sometime before the middle of the seventeenth century. This manuscript has been on my mind for a long time, since it contains no fewer than three of the five world maps that come down to us from medieval Iceland.

In my chapter, I wanted to enlarge upon some thoughts I've had about the materiality of medieval maps and diagrams. Diagrams may be knowledge in visual form, but they are also material things, drawn in manuscript books, and drawing on the architecture of these books to make their arguments. I compare the arrangement of diagrams in this fascinating manuscript with that in other encyclopedic miscellanies, like the Liber Floridus, to explore some of the ways in which thought and materiality might converge. Medieval scribes may have used the gutter between manuscript folios to break up a map or diagram, inviting focussed inspection of its several parts, or, as is the case with GkS 1812 4to, used the compass hole around which diagrams are drawn to invite readers to inspect them not as individual objects of attention, but as part of a series. In this I drew inspiration from Marcia Kupfer's fabulous book on the Hereford mappa mundi, in which she shows how the literal compassing of the monumental map infiltrates into the work's poetics in all sorts of interesting ways.


I'm thrilled to see this book in print, and look forward to perusing the final forms of the other contributions. Encyclopedias like GkS 1812 4to - the works sometimes referred to as 'alfræði' - are the tangled undergrowth of medieval Icelandic literary studies; still largely unexplored, but wild and enticing. I hope this fantastic book invites more to explore it.



Kedwards, Dale. ‘The Compassed Earth: Maps and Diagrams in GkS 1812 4to’. In A World in Fragments: Studies on the Encyclopedic Manuscript GKS 1812 4to, ed. Gunnar Harðarson, with Christian Etheridge, Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir, and Guðrún Nordal (Reykjavík: The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, 2021), pp. 211–226.

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