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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Vol. I. Poetry for Scandinavian Rulers 1: From Mythological Times to c. 1035 2. General Introduction 2. Character and objectives of the present edition 2.2. History of the skaldic editing project’s database

2.2. History of the skaldic editing project’s database

Tarrin Wills 2012, ‘History of the skaldic editing project’s database’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. xxviii-xxx.

The history of the skaldic editing project itself has been documented elsewhere by Gade (2002b) and will not be repeated in this section, which discusses the development of the project’s database. The skaldic database, developed and maintained by Tarrin Wills, has evolved since 2001 to deal with three basic problems involved in managing information for the project. Firstly, the long duration of the project and the wide geographical distribution of contributors and assistants has meant that information has needed to be accessible and modifiable remotely; secondly, the corpus contains a very large amount of linked and cross-referenced information, which has formed a resource for contributors and has needed to be referenced consistently throughout the edition in its various forms; and thirdly, the edition and associated information has had to be accessible in different forms (e.g. print and electronic), but consistent in its content across those forms. The project from early on has used an online database to manage significant elements of its processes and outcomes.

The skaldic database emerged from an earlier attempt to manage information about the skaldic corpus systematically. Jón Helgason had commissioned an extensive card index of all the poetry in the Skj corpus, comprising the text of Skj and lists of manuscript witnesses and editions, including page and line references. This work was unfortunately not completed, though it still exists in the archives of Den Arnamagnæanske Samling, Nordisk Forskningsinstitut, at the University of Copenhagen, and has provided a valuable resource for the new edition. In 2001 the manuscript information in the card index was used to form a database of skaldic poetry. The database linked information on the stanzas, poems and skalds, as well as the source texts in which the verse and accompanying prose occurs.

The next step was to make this information accessible to editors in different locations. The database was made accessible through a web interface to anyone with access to the Internet. This networked database has been expanded to include a large amount of related data, which is also accessible and editable through the web interface. Further information was supplied from a range of sources and Eysteinn Björnsson gave permission to extract the text of his online publication of Skj B. This supplied the basic text of about 80% of the corpus to use in searching. Wills entered the remaining 20% manually from Skj B. The Ordbog over det norrøne prosasprog (ONP) generously supplied the data files used in their Registre volume. These data provided the project with a database of prose works and manuscripts in which they occur, along with information about the dating of manuscripts. The data provided editors with a resource for identifying and locating stanzas in prose works and manuscripts. Other online resources, such as the Saganet web site, became available around the same time and provided additional resources for editors.

Given the wide geographical dispersal of contributors to the project, it was seen as desirable to have as many of the manuscripts of the corpus as possible available electronically for editors to transcribe and consult. The information on manuscripts and stanzas already in the database was used to identify manuscripts and pages to be digitised. This information was used to identify relevant pages to scan from the Arnamagnæan photograph library in 2001-4. Around 15,500 pages have been scanned. In addition, the Stofnun Árna Magnússonar in Reykjavík agreed to use their digital photography equipment to digitise selected manuscripts in their collection, and these have also been added to the online database.

A number of other capabilities were added to the database, including the ability to link transcriptions of manuscripts to stanzas. Valgerður Erna Þorvaldsdóttir was employed in Reykjavík to support editors, particularly those working on SkP IV and V, in transcribing manuscripts, and her transcriptions are included in the database, along with those produced by other editors.


  1. Bibliography
  2. Skj B = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1912-15b. Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning. B: Rettet tekst. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Villadsen & Christensen. Rpt. 1973. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger.
  3. Gade, Kari Ellen. 2002b. ‘Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages: A New Edition’. skandinavistik 32, 3-18.
  4. ONP = Degnbol, Helle et al., eds. 1989-. A Dictionary of Old Norse Prose / Ordbog over det norrøne prosasprog. 1-. Copenhagen: The Arnamagnæan Commission.
  5. SkP IV = Poetry on Icelandic History. Ed. Guðrún Nordal. Forthcoming.

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