Away! Faraway! - And to Another
Continent. Personal Sources of Icelandic Immigrants to Canada.
Anthology from diaries of eight Icelandic
emigrants to North America in the 19th century
(Anthology from Icelandic Popular Culture 5)
The majority of the Icelandic population was literate during the 19th
century. Those who moved to the USA and Canada during the second half of the
19th century and the beginning of the 20th century took with them the skills
of reading and writing. More importantly, these people often wrote down
their thoughts and ideas before they decided to move to a new country. They
recorded their experiences during their passage to the New World and
documented their daily struggles on a new continent. Their thoughts were
expressed in private diaries or journals, in letters to family and friends
back home, and in autobiographies. These sources have mostly stayed in
private hands and therefore out of reach for historians. Because of this and
trends in the use of historical methods, these first hand sources have not
got the scholarly attention which they definitely deserve.
The Autobiographical Advantage
The advantages of using personal sources, when one is researching people's
everyday life, are enormous. No other historical documents are likely to
give the historian the opportunity to look into the mentality of the people
who took part in the great migration. In diaries we witness desires,
frustrations, surprises and the general world view of those who made the
dramatic decision to move to the New World. These perspectives are extremely
important to understand in depth the struggle which people had to go
through on their way to "the promised land".
"Icelanders On the Move" is an attempt to show how eight individuals, and
families from this small island in the North Atlantic Oceean in the 19th
century, decided to pack their bags and move to a foreign continent. It also
demonstrates how they took on the challenge of the trip itself, to America,
and finally, how they experienced their first year in the New World. The
diarists represent a wide spectrum of the social strata in Iceland, from
workers and poor peasants to goldsmiths and wealthy farmers. They come from
large collection of extremely colourful diaries which have ended up in
manuscript departments in Iceland and are in the group of the very best of
that collection. Each individual diarist will be introduced before the
excerpts are shown and the authors will write an extensive introductory
chapter to the book where they will shed light on one of the most important
historical transitions in the eleven hundred year history of Iceland: - the
great migration to North America.
Dr. Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon received his Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon
Pittsburgh, USA, in 1993, and has since then been a lecturer at the
University of Iceland and a member of the Reykjavik Academia, an
interdisciplinary research group located in Reykjavik. He is the
founder of a book series called "Anthology from Icelandic Popular Culture"
he has recently published a monograph called "Education, Love, and
Grief: A Micro-Historical Analysis of the 19th and the 20th Century Peasant
Society in Iceland." (Studia historica 13 (1997)), another called "The Sound
of Divine Revelation. A Diary, Autobiography, Letters and Poems of Magnus Hj.
Magnusson." (Anthology from Icelandic Popular Culture 2 (1998)). He has led
a group of scholars who have used and developed microhistorical approach in
historical research in Iceland.
Davíð Ólafsson, MA in history from the Univesity of Iceland, is the
country's leading expert on diaries as a historical source, and has written
extensively on the subject. His groundbreaking research on the scope of the
Icelandic diary-writing in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries has in fact
opened up a new way of dealing with historical questions concerning this
time period. He is currently a member of the Reykjavík Academia and is working on
research on literacy and popular culture.