Is the Image of Iceland Based on Myths or Reality? Skip to content

Is the Image of Iceland Based on Myths or Reality?

The office of the Prime Minister recently published a document on the image of Iceland. The file includes definitions about the image and origins of Iceland, and discusses issues relating to the promotion of Iceland which often proves divisive among scholars.

The Icelandic Historians’ Association sent the Prime Minister, Geir H. Haarde, a letter which states that the interpretation of Icelandic history in the document goes against the results of history research since the seventies.

The first chapter of the document has the following clause about the origins of the Icelandic nation.

“The first Icelanders were people who came here in the search of freedom and better living conditions. The nation had to struggle though the centuries, but when it gained its freedom and independence it took a leap forward from being a developed country and became one of the richest nations in the world within a century. Icelanders are hard working and a proud nation, shaped by survival in harsh living conditions. The most important cultural heritage for Icelanders is their language, which lives in the spoken word of its inhabitants and in its literature.”

According to latest historical research, such a statement is more political than accurate.

The letter sent by the Icelandic Historians’ Association to the Prime Minister states that this interpretation of history is based on myths that were used for political purposes during Iceland’s independence campaign rather than reality. Those myths include for example sayings about “The Golden Age” which was the time period after the settlement in the 9th century before the rule of the Norwegian crown. That was a popular term in political discourse during the early 20th century to justify Iceland’s claim for independence.

The document also states that the image of a nation “… [M]ust be based upon characteristics of the land and its people that are true and “real” and have deep roots”. The Icelandic Historians’ Association is highly critical about the foundations for those characteristics.

“This image is built on interpretation which is outdated. For example that the settlers came here in the search for freedom and gaining independence was the decisive factor in the development of society [after 1944]. […] It has been debated if images have something to do with truth or reality at all. We wanted, however, to suggest that to build something “true or real” as the document states, is not compatible with ideas and myths that became outdated 20 or 30 years ago, at least where most historians are concerned.” Íris Ellenberger, the chairwoman of Icelandic Historians’ Association said.

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