All the Old Norse manuscripts

To students or scholars of Old Norse-Icelandic literature and culture, www.handrit.is might be one of the top 10 websites for work. It provides an online catalogue with digitised manuscripts from medieval Iceland and Norway.

Behind the scenes

The website is a joint effort of the Arnamagnæan Collection in Copenhagen, the National and University Library of Iceland in Reykjavík, and the The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies in Reykjavík. Each of the participating institutions is responsible for the creation and maintenance of the database entries and images for their holdings. As of March 2018, there are altogether 9906 catalogue entries with 2328 digitised manuscripts. While the overall number of catalogue entries should be more or less complete, digitisations are constantly added. The website is available in Icelandic, English, and Danish. The catalogue entries, however, are not fully available in all three languages. That depends on the manuscript collection responsible for the entries. Manuscripts located in Iceland usually only have an Icelandic entry, while Copenhagen manuscripts are catalogued in Danish and (with some exceptions) also in English. The translate extension in Chrome, for instance, does an ok job turning the Icelandic entries into English (with caveats, however, as it hardly ever gets the terminology right).

Structure and content

The structure of the website is easy to navigate. The home page gives direct access to a selection of manuscripts and has search masks for a simple text search and a search by shelfmark. Besides that, www.handrit.is features an advanced search that allows you to limit your search according to interest, e.g. time span or language. There are also a browse function, where you can scroll through uniform titles, supplied titles, verses, nicknames, keywords, people, places, and organisations. Finally, there is a bibliography. The catalogue entries are based on TEI P5 conformant xml files, that can also be downloaded using the menu on the left in each entry. The minuity and correctness of the entries varies a lot, as they are based on the old printed catalogues that are gradually updated. The digitised manuscripts can be browsed using the arrows of your keyboard. You can choose between two-page and single-page layout and thumbnail overview. The quality of the images is pretty high, so you can zoom in onto the page and look at the execution of the script, for instance, without everything dissolving into pixels. Although this function is not provided via any button, you can download any page using left or two-finger click. You won’t end up with the highest possible resolution, but it will be sufficient for most tasks. For work contexts, however, it would be more convenient if www.handrit.is offered a button to download the full manuscript at one click in order to facilitate offline work.

Design

Although certainly not one of the most stunning websites around, www.handrit.is's design does not distract you from its content. You don’t get distracted, and all functions work well across platforms and browsers. There is, however, no mobile version of any part of the website. The browser is able to adjust the text, so most parts are readable, and especially the catalogue entries work well. However, the search mask is pretty difficult to operate, and some parts are simply too small to do their job on a smartphone. One would wish for a mobile-friendly version here, and also a version of the manuscript reader especially for touchscreens would improve the website’s userfriendliness and overall impression.

Commendation

www.handrit.is is one of the essential websites for scholars and students interested in manuscripts and Old Norse literature. It has ambitious aims regarding scope and functions, and it simply takes time to have all catalogue entries and digitisations in place.