Sjuttonhundratal (Dec 2022)

Facing natural extremes

  • Margrét Gunnarsdóttir

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 19


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As a consequence of a large-scale volcanic outburst, the Laki eruption in 1783–1784, the focus of the world turned suddenly towards Iceland, a province of the Danish crown. The dynamic volcano in Iceland had far-reaching consequences for the outside world as the pollution was carried further by the wind, causing dramatic changes in weather conditions. The temperature in Europe fell by 1.5 °C over a two-year period. Icelanders endured extreme hardship as sulphuric haze swept the country during the summer of 1783 and temperature dropped dramatically for a time. The period which followed is termed ‘The Famine of the Mist’ in Icelandic history due to the thick fog caused by the eruption and the extreme cold weather. This article will discuss the experience the people of Iceland underwent at the time. Correspondence, which is the main source of the article, gives an intimate glimpse of people’s lives during this critical period caused by the Laki eruption. The letters reveal that, albeit exhausted and traumatized, people were striving to remain optimistic. The eyes of Europe and the enlightened world of scientists were cast on Iceland during these dramatic times. Icelandic contacts with the outside world, despite Iceland being located far away in the North Atlantic, were various and flowed in more than one direction. The administration of Iceland was centred in Copenhagen where a plan for free trade was already in preparation at the outbreak of the eruption.