Albert Jóhannesson and the Scribes of Hecla Island

Manuscript culture and scibal production in an Icelandic-Canadian settlement

  • Katelin Parsons University of Iceland
Keywords: post-medieval manuscript studies, Icelandic manuscript culture in North America, scribal communities, literacy as social practice, literary culture of Icelandic immigrants to Canada, Hecla Island


To date, very little research exists on manuscript culture in Icelandic immigrant communities in North America. The present article examines the case study of an immigrant-scribe, Albert Jóhannesson (1847–1921), who left Iceland as an adult in 1884 and eventually settled in the community of Hecla Island, Manitoba, Canada. All four saga manuscripts in Albert’s hand remain in Manitoba. Albert Jóhannesson is one of the last known individuals to participate in manuscript production as a pastime: he started his oldest saga manuscript in 1889, and his last dated saga is from 1910. He copied some material from printed books and periodicals, but he probably worked mainly from manuscript exemplars. At least one of these, SÁM 35, was brought to Canada by another Hecla Islander, Grímólfur Ólafsson (1827–1903). Far from being an eccentric hermit in the bush, Albert appears to have been an active participant in a scribal community on Hecla Island. The study demonstrates that scribes operated in collaboration with others in their local settlements and made new connections on their arrival to North America that enabled the continued circulation of manuscript material.