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The Inscribing Environmental Memory in the Icelandic Sagas (IEM) project hompage

IEM Development

Informnation on how IEM is developing, who is involved and details on workshops and how you could be a part of this exciting initiative

Tools & Platforms

How we intend to use the latest mapping and modelling technology in IEM


Details of affiliated institutions from six countries

Inscribing Environmental Memory in the Icelandic Sagas

The Inscribing Environmental Memory in the Icelandic Sagas (IEM) project is a major cross-cutting initiative of The Nordic Network for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies (NIES), The North Atlantic Biocultural Organization (NABO) and The Global Human Ecodynamics Alliance (GHEA).

Development of the IEM Initiative

Exploratory and planning discussions among participating researchers from these fields began at the NIES V research symposium in Sigtuna (October 2011), intensifying throughout 2012. The time scales, and to some degree, the geographical scope of IEM expanded during this initial concept-development period, and this was true as well of the range of literary and documentary sources and environmental data to be drawn upon in the initiative. Additional geographical foci proposed (as environs engaged by the medieval saga mind) include Greenland and the American North Atlantic, Scandinavia and the British Isles. The possibilities for examining long-term circumpolar "environmental memory" by bringing documentary, material-cultural and palaeoenvironmental data sets into close comparative focus have expanded considerably as a result of the breadth of interest IEM has generated among groups of scholars actively working on Icelandic/Scandinavian/North Atlantic history, literature, archaeology, environment, and climatic change.

IEM aims to relate qualitatively-oriented literary and historical study of the sagas to other research fields at the material-cultural and scientific end of the spectrum, drawing upon data sets and collaboratively cross-referencing findings from each of these fields in unprecedented ways, aided in large measure by new digital-humanities and geovisualization tools that are transforming how scientists and humanities scholars communicate and work together. A truly interdisciplinary-or even postdisciplinary-conception of this sort requires that each of the core disciplines anchoring the initiative be given an equal stake in the program, including its execution and outcomes, rather than having their contributions be merely applied in the service of a particular research agenda defined by a (dominant) disciplinary perspective. Partners in the IEM collaboration share a core research philosophy: by relating specialist findings to one another in innovative question- and problem-driven ways specialist understanding can be qualitatively enhanced while also increasing our collective store of knowledge in a range of study areas. This approach is consonant with the principles of integrated science promoted by ICSU, ISSC and other international scientific organizations (c.f., ISSC's Transformative Cornerstones report, 2012), emphasizing the need for integrating Humanities research in wider Social Science research agendas, and for integrating both of these domains in the kinds of research agendas previously undertaken more exclusively within the natural sciences. The principles of integrated science are in fact part of the organizational and methodological rationales underlying the long-awaited Future Earth program, to which IEM and other IHOPE cases have much to contribute.

IEM was launched in late 2012, with efforts to synthesize existing scientific and scholarly work of high relevance to the program, including identification and recruitment of strong researchers/research groups. In response to a call for preliminary project proposals, 28 abstracts for potential IEM sub-projects were received by the initiative's planning group in October 2012. A number of these proposals are now being consolidated into a more manageable set of sub-project nodes. NIES and NABO began to collaborate more actively on the IEM initiative in conjunction with the CUNY HERC Open Workshop in Sustainability Science and Education organized by the Human Ecodynamics Research Center at the City University of New York, 15 October 2012. GHEA joined the IEM cooperation shortly thereafter. Numerous IEM workshops have been organized jointly by NIES, NABO, GHEA and various university partners since the initiative's launch in 2012.


In 2013 IEM workshops have been/are being hosted by the following affiliated institutions:

  • KTH Stockholm and Uppsala University (February 2013)
  • University of Aberdeen (February 2013)
  • Įrni Magnśsson Institute for Icelandic Studies and Reykjavik Academy (April 2013)
  • NSF Science Engineering and Education for Sustainability program and Stefansson Arctic Institute, Akureyri, Iceland (July 2013)
  • University of Maryland (November 2013)
  • Mid Sweden University, KTH and Uppsala University (at the Sigtuna Foundation in December 2013)

IEM development work in 2013 is expected to culminate in several major bids for research funding to be submitted to research financing agenciesin various national and international contexts between late 2013 and 2014.

IEM Executive Committee

  • Steven Hartman (overall coordinator for NIES)
  • Thomas McGovern (overall coordinator for NABO and GHEA)
  • Andrew Dugmore
  • Adolf Frišrikson
  • Višar Hreinsson
  • John Ljungkvist
  • Karen Milek
  • Astrid Ogilvie
  • Gķsli Siguršsson

The IEM initiative is steered by an international executive committee. The committee consults with a Scientific Advisory Board made up of distinguished leaders in participating fields of study. Four supporting groups (still in the process of being formed) are intended to provide additional advisory assistance and cross-cutting resources to IEM sub-projects, while facilitating coherence and optimal communications among these projects and providing guidance on common standards and shared best practice. The four groups include:

Digital Resources: GIS integration, human and environmental models, data management and accessibility, data (including digital text) mining and mapping, topic modeling, geotemporal visualization and digital dissemination

Textual Analysis via Ecocriticism and Environmental History: coordinating the literary and historical (e.g. saga, legal, placename and folklore) analyses with focused ecocritical close readings of the sagas, working to optimize searches for environmenal elements in documentary sources and to map as comprehensively as possible environmental content/representation in the literary sources, balancing quantitative with qualitative analyses.

Historical Ecology, Historical Climatology and Comparative Human Ecodynamics: coordinating field and laboratory archaeology (including bioarchaeology, zooarchaeology, archaeobotany, geoarchaeology, geophysics).

Integrated Science and Humanistic Study: coordinating integration of project activities and findings with the wider Sustainability Science and Education communities (including affiliated international projects such as IGBP, AIMES PAGES and IHDP), and engaging with the new Future Earth program, its sponsoring organizations and the scientific programs it is integrating (ISSC, ICSU, UNEP, UNESCO and UNU).

The four supporting groups are not seen as control mechanisms but rather as resource nodes that can serve multiple sub-projects. Typically IEM sub-projects will be linked to more than one of these four nodes/working groups.