H English HPWL
21 January 208 Iceland: The Forward
Iceland is a Nordic island country of
Europe located in the North Atlantic Ocean.
With an area of 39,679 square miles and a population of 334,252, most
people live in the capitol, Reykjavik.
Iceland is famous for its breathtaking natural beauty, filled with hot
springs, geysers, and active volcanoes.
Although Iceland is geographically isolated, it is home to one of the
more technologically and socially advanced nations in the world. Iceland has a captivating history,
interesting current events, and a rich literary history. You can trace Iceland’s uniqueness back to
those who settled and first developed the island nation. They were a progressive and adventurous
people who tried new things and did things their own way, despite attempts by
neighboring countries to impose their rules and traditions.
Iceland’s history began in the 9th century,
when it was first discovered and settled by progressive explorers looking for a
new start. According to Ingólfur Shahin;
writer of the article The History of Iceland “Iceland was given its name by a
Scandinavian sailor, Flóki Vilgerðarson after he spotted some drift ice in the
fjords during an especially brutal winter. Hrafna-Flóki (Flóki of the Ravens), as he is
called, was the first Norseman to deliberately set sail to Iceland.” Ingolfur Shanin also states that:
Ingólfur Arnarson is credited as Iceland’s first
permanent settler… As legend has it, Ingólfur threw overboard two carved pillars and
pledged to settle wherever they landed.
In time, the pillars were found in current-day Reykjavík where he
settled with his family in the year 874. Norwegian chieftains followed
Ingólfur en masse through the next few decades to escape the heavy-handed King Harald of Norway, and in about 60 years, Iceland was
fully settled. By 930 A.D., it is
thought that all arable land in the country had been settled.
Ingolfur Shahin also states that “…the
settlement had grown so large that a new legislative body was in order; the
ruling chiefs, therefore, established the Althing, which is believed by many to
be the world’s oldest nation-wide parliament.”
Iceland had a centuries-long head start on establishing a representative
government, its early rulers were as religious as their counterparts in other
parts of the world at the time. Ingolfur
Shahin outlines the early religious history driven by Iceland’s first rulers as
they transitioned from their Nordic beliefs to the more modern Christian
beliefs of their time:
For a time, the Icelanders held onto
their belief in Norse mythology, following a lineage of oral tradition that
spanned back to the time of their ancestors in Scandinavia. However, when Olaf
Tryggvason ascended the Norwegian throne in 995 AD, he decided to focus his
efforts on converting those under his rule…so Olaf sent across a
number of missionaries with only partial success. In 999 A.D., after another unsuccessful
conversion attempt, Olaf shut off all trade routes to Iceland…To avoid civil war, the pagan law speaker Þorgeir Þorkelsson was elected
to decide whether Iceland should or should not become a Christian country. Thorgeir was chosen for his reputation as a
reasonable man who could act as a peaceful mediator between both sides of the
debate. After deliberating…Thorgeir
finally concluded that Iceland should adopt a new faith.
The religious transition was a
tumultuous age for Iceland, accompanied by political strife and war. Ingólfur Shahin states that “In the 13th
century, a civil war known as the Age of the Sturlungs gripped Iceland…strife
saw powerful Icelandic chieftains (Goðar) battle it out over whether Iceland
should become a subject of Hákon the Old, King of Norway.” The article “The History of Iceland” states
The Norwegian king was nothing if not
persistent in stirring up trouble. Gissur
Þorvaldsson….was made a Jarl by the Norwegian king. Gissur did much to push the King’s efforts,
and finally, in 1262, the Gamli sáttmáli (“Old Covenant”) was
signed. This agreement ended the
Icelandic Commonwealth and the island became a vassal of the Kingdom of Norway.
One century later, Iceland would be
granted to the Danish. Denmark’s
Christian III challenged the open religious practices of Icelanders and imposed
Lutheranism on the people, and to this day, most religious Icelanders remain
many years of Dutch rule, in the 19th century, the demand for
Icelandic independence increased, and Iceland became a sovereign state in
1918. Though independent, it still
remained subject to some forms of rule by Denmark, with full separation only coming
about after World War II. According to Jonathon Wilcox and Zawiah Abdul Latif;
authors of the book Cultures of the World
The Icelandic government
declared its intentions to push for total independence, a move overwhelmingly
approved in a national referendum. On June, 1944, at the traditional site of
the Althing, Sveinn Bjornsson… declared Iceland independent. Iceland had finally regained independence
after 700 years.
In the post-world war boom, Iceland
thrived and grew economically.
Production and culture developed along with the rest of Europe. Since that time, Iceland has lived up to its
historic reputation as an innovator. Modern
day Iceland is thriving! According to the
website Promote Iceland, in the article People
and Society, “Iceland is a progressive, modern society that continuously
ranks at the top of measurements for quality of life.”
A huge part of Iceland’s social
progression has to do with equality for women.
According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2017, published by the World
Economic Forum, “Iceland has long been deemed the best place in the world to be
a woman, for the past nine years…” A few
weeks ago, Iceland became the first country in the world to have companies
prove that men and women have equal pay for the same work. According to Sif Sigmarsdottir; author of the
article Once More, Iceland has Shown it
is the Best Place in the World to be a Female:
This week Iceland became the first country in the world
to make companies prove they are
not paying women less than men for the same work. Employers are
rushing to comply with the new rules to avoid fines. Companies and government agencies with more
than 25 staff must obtain government certification of their equal pay policies.
Egalitarianism, or the equality of all people, is an
important value for Icelanders and it shows in their economy. According to Jonathon Wilcox and Zawiah Abdul
Latif; authors of the book Cultures of the
There is less social and
economic stratification in Iceland than in most countries. The difference in wages between different
professions is also smaller.
Egalitarianism, the equality of all people, is widely recognized as an
important ideal by all Icelanders. This
spirit is encouraged, like so much else, by the number, by the small size of
commitment to equality and progressive social policy is also evident in their
structure of the education system. They believe
that every student should have equal opportunities to acquire and education,
regardless of religion, economic status, handicap, or cultural/social
background. Shannon Elder, author of What Does Education in Iceland Look Like,
Preschool is the first level
of education, which children attend between one and six years of age. There are fees for preschool, but they are
largely subsidized. Compulsory education
follows preschool education. Compulsory
education is free and mandatory for children between the ages of six and 16…
Upper secondary education is the third level.
It is available to anyone who has completed compulsory education, and is
mostly compromised of students 16 to 20 years of age. The upper secondary level is essentially the
equivalent of high school in the United States and is free… The fourth tier is
education at a university…To apply for university, a student must first have
completed upper secondary education. For
the most part, universities in Iceland are required to accept all students with
an upper secondary degree. Public
universities in Iceland are tuition-free…
A strong focus on education makes
sense given Iceland’s long history of literature and reading. Iceland has a
strong literary tradition dating back centuries and their love of literature
still thrives today. According to the
article The Most Influential Contemporary
Icelandic Novelists, “Iceland is notorious for being a book-loving nation,
with over 1300 titles published each year.
In a language spoken by only 340,000 people, that is a remarkable
The country’s love for written language and literature
traces back to its origins. The Icelandic language has stayed steady over
its many generations. According to
Encyclopedia Britannica, in the article Icelandic
Literature, “the relative stability of the Icelandic language means that
Icelanders today can without difficulty still read old Icelandic sagas.”
For most of its history, poetry was Iceland’s main form
of literature. Poets were a significant
factor in driving Iceland’s move towards independence. According to Jonathon Wilcox and
Zawiah Abdul Latif; authors of the book Cultures
of the World Iceland:
Jonas Hallgrimsson…Is one of
the most admired poets of modern Iceland.
He pioneered a new movement in poetry and literature, which reshaped the
language of poetry and prose, opened the Icelanders’ eyes to the beauty of
their land, and accelerated their determination to achieve political
It was through the written word that the political will
and imagination for the value of sovereign independence was harnessed and
channeled to action. Poetry was powerful
in that regard and Icelanders traditionally valued poetry above other forms of
literature due to its power to unite public opinion and move people to
It was only in the early 20th Century that Icelandic
novelists started to publish books.
Halldór Laxness received the 1955 Nobel Prize in Literature for his “vivid
epic power which has renewed the great narrative art of Iceland.” His novel depicted his nation in an eye opening
manner for the rest of the world and was a best seller in the United States.
From its founding, Iceland has made history, pushing
the boundaries on religious, political, and social fronts. That progressive tradition was set by forward
thinkers who discovered, settled, and developed Iceland. The people who came thereafter continued to
move progressively and helped drive modern reforms needed to make Iceland the
cutting edge example of equality, progress, and innovation that it is
today. The people of Iceland continue to
live up to their ancestors’ progressive legacy and now Iceland boasts some of
the most successful forward thinking and progressive societies in the
“The History of Iceland .” Guide to Iceland, 25 June
People & Society,
“Once more, Iceland has shown it is the best
place in the world to be female | Sif Sigmarsdóttir.” The Guardian, Guardian News
and Media, 5 Jan. 2018,
Wilcox, Jonathan, et al. Iceland. Cavendish Square, 2017.
Jones, Walton Glyn, et al. “Icelandic
literature.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 3 Dec.
Honeycutt, Erin. “The Most Influential Contemporary Icelandic
Novelists.” Culture Trip, 25 Sept. 2017,
“The Nobel Prize in Literature 1955”.
Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 22 Jan 2018.