Fragile Heritage: Í fótspor Árna Magnússonar

An Online Catalogue of Icelandic-Language Manuscripts in North America

Project manager: Katelin Parsons

Co-researchers: Ryan Eric Johnson and Ólafur Arnar Sveinsson


“For even the tiniest scraps are more precious to me than gold…”
(Árni Magnússon to the Rev. Ólafur Jónsson of Grunnavík)

The objective of this initiative is to create a digital catalogue of handwritten books and other non-print material in Icelandic brought to Canada and the United States or created there by early immigrants. This involves:

  • identifying Icelandic-language heritage manuscripts, personal writings and other items in archives and private collections
  • making information on these manuscripts and their contents available to researchers and the public in a searchable online catalogue
  • encouraging community engagement with this shared cultural legacy

The project has the long-term support of the Honorary Advisory Council of the Icelandic National League, which has pledged to assist with funding the initiative and future work on heritage manuscripts brought by Icelandic immigrants. The project has received financial support from (to date) the Eimskip Fund, the Manitoba Heritage Grant Program, Eimskip, Landsbanki and the University of Manitoba Icelandic Department.


Words Worth Keeping was created as a shared space for Iceland’s manuscript heritage: from medieval sagas to modern letters and diaries. Thousands of kilometers separate historical Icelandic settlements in Canada and the United States. With the help of the Internet, we will be able to bring together writings preserved in many different physical locations across North America.

Work on adding North American manuscripts to the catalogue is currently taking place (2017). Once complete, it will be a helpful resource for students, writers, translators and researchers on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and for anyone searching for more information on the written traces left by immigrants from Iceland.

Searchable digital catalogue entries in English will be created for individual manuscripts, with detailed information on their contents, physical condition, ownership and provenance. The catalogue will also extend to privately owned manuscripts where owners wish to provide public access to this information.