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Iceland ImaginedIceland Imagined

Nature, Culture, and Storytelling in the North Atlantic

Karen Oslund

Narrated by Cynthia Wallace

Available from Audible

Book published by University of Washington Press

Iceland, Greenland, Northern Norway, and the Faroe Islands lie on the edges of Western Europe, in an area long portrayed by travelers as remote and exotic - its nature harsh, its people reclusive. Since the middle of the eighteenth century, however, this marginalized region has gradually become part of modern Europe, a transformation that is narrated in Karen Oslund's Iceland Imagined.

This cultural and environmental history sweeps across the dramatic North Atlantic landscape, exploring its unusual geography, saga narratives, language, culture, and politics, and analyzing its emergence as a distinctive and symbolic part of Europe. The earliest visions of a wild frontier, filled with dangerous and unpredictable inhabitants, eventually gave way to images of beautiful, well-managed lands, inhabited by simple but virtuous people living close to nature.

This transformation was accomplished by state-sponsored natural histories of Iceland which explained that the monsters described in medieval and Renaissance travel accounts did not really exist, and by artists who painted the Icelandic landscapes to reflect their fertile and regulated qualities. Literary scholars and linguists who came to Iceland and Greenland in the nineteenth century related the stories and the languages of the "wild North" to those of their home countries.

Karen Oslund is assistant professor of world history at Towson University in Maryland.


“One should read this book for its history of ideas and perceptions and its grasp of the tensions that exist and have existed at cultural frontiers." ”

Geographical Review

“The book is sure to be of interest to those studying Iceland and the North Atlantic's culture and environmental history and those interested in the European understanding of that region. Summing Up: Recommended.”


“An excellent work, covering unusual ground. The author's mastery of a variety of contexts - Inuit, Faroese, Icelandic, Scandinavian - and different periods - historical and modern - is admirable. Not only does Iceland Imagined nicely chart important historical contours in the North Atlantic region, it offers numerous useful and original observations on themes in history, anthropology, literature, and linguistics.”

—Gisli Palsson, University of Iceland

“The narrative moves swiftly and elegantly over unusual grounds. The final chapter discusses two present-day controversies ... Oslund argues convincingly that in both these controversies stories that travelers had written in the 18th and 19th centuries were retold. In doing so she also demonstrates the present day relevance of studying how Iceland has been imagined in the past.”

Technology and Culture

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University Press Audiobooks