About 20 years ago or so I heard a researcher give a paper on the display and interpretation of medieval Icelandic manuscripts in a particular institution in Iceland; the name of the speaker and which specific institution it was I can no longer remember, I am afraid. In the paper he made a brilliant analogy which has stuck in my mind ever since. He described how these priceless treasures of Icelandic cultural and literary heritage were displayed in glass cases with tiny labels giving the manuscript number (for example 'AM 145 fol. 1v'), a date and little else. The manuscript might have been a page from an Icelandic saga and, as such, the physical link between the viewer and the world within the saga - a magical remote world full of violence, heroic deeds, intrigue, conflict, bloodshed and suspense, all the key ingredients of first class entertainment. To anyone interested in engaging with such an incredible piece of material culture and history being offered nothing but the manuscript number and a date would be like going to the cinema to watch a James Bond film, and instead of getting to watch the film, all you got was a picture of Sean Connery and a label saying: JB Goldfinger, 105 mins, 1964. That would be really rather disappointing...The point the speaker was making was that without interpretation or visualisation to make an object, in this case a folio page, come alive, all the things that make it fascinating and valuable remain locked inside. The utterly gripping tales of Iceland's medieval past would remain inacessible to everyone bar a handful of specialist scholars.
Katinka Dalglish, museum curator, Strathard Community Trust member, Scandi immigrant, beginner blogger.
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