Searching for the Future in the Past: A Day Of Learning In Iceland

HON195 Student Post: Molly LeComte, International Business Major; Honors Minor

Career Aspirations:  In 5 Years I hope to be a Lawyer

Searching for the Future in the Past
A Day Of Learning In Iceland

Onward to “fishery” (Reykjavik Maritime Museum)

Today I traveled with my class to three distinctly different places, all to get a better understanding of the maritime fishing industry of Iceland. We started the morning at the Árbaer Open Air Museum in Reykjavik, a small re-creation of what life was like in Iceland during different periods of time.  Houses from all over Iceland are occasionally moved to this historic farm for preservation.  By walking from house to house, one is physically surrounded by Iceland’s past. These homes shine light on what life was like for fishermen and farmers throughout the decades. The houses were so well preserved that it felt as though at any moment the old residents would walk into the home and greet me with an Icelandic “grunt,” the universal greeting in this county.

Courtyard at the Árbaer Museum

While walking around the upstairs of one house, I discovered light folk music playing in the background of a room, while I looked at the old trinkets and household items that filled the area.

Icelandic Pantry, ca. 1940s

As I continued to tour the “Consumption” exhibit, I noticed that one room always connected to another, making each narrow path just another way to explore different decades of Iceland. The exhibition included technology from each era, arranged in order from oldest to most modern, along with pictures, toys and kitchenware that brought every decade to life. Every room had its own contemporary music playing and my personal favorite was jamming to 1970s Icelandic disco with my fellow honors students. After learning about Iceland’s more recent history in the Consumption exhibit, I stepped back in time by walking down a black lava path and into a land of stone and turf houses made before 1704.

Old Turf House


After exploring the steep stairs and dried meat rooms in the turf house, it was time to go onto our next adventure- the Ocean Cluster House.  When we arrived at Sjvarklasinn, it was immediately apparent that we had walked from Iceland’s past into its future.  

At the Ocean Cluster House, we met with Berta Danielsdottir, the CEO, who told us about their plans to eliminate fish waste in Iceland by using as much of the fish as possible. She also told us how the Iceland Ocean Cluster’s mission is to create value by connecting together entrepreneurs, businesses and knowledge in the marine industries” in order to create new and innovative products with the parts of fish not previously utilized, e.g. collagen, skin, liver oil, etc.  In Iceland, in order to keep species from going extinct, there are quotas for the amount of fish fishermen can catch.  Therefore, their job at the Cluster House is to try and make the catch (especially cod) worth more by using every part of each fish, even with the quotas restricting the amount able to be caught.

The Iceland Ocean Cluster House

The Ocean Cluster House, located in a building next to Reykjavik Harbor, uses innovative, modern, affordable spaces designed for networking to help entrepreneurs reach their dreams of creating a business. In order to keep up the correct supply and demand and to keep the businesses sustainable, they tend to market their goods as luxury items, as most of them can’t be mass produced. From this experience we learned about what it takes to become a successful business owner and how to make our dreams realities while still being able to keep the environment healthy. As an international business major this hands on experience helped me connect my own studies with real world applications. The Ocean Cluster House made me see the value of waste streams and their possibilities–something that I have always studied in theory and never before seen in an actual business setting.

After we left the Ocean Cluster House, we walked along the shore, the city stretching on one side, the ocean stretching past the horizon on the other.  We made our way to the Reykjavik Maritime Museum where we learned about history of the fishing industry in Iceland–both how it affected their economy as well as how it shaped the lives of Icelanders. One exhibit focused on the “Cod Wars” between Britain and Iceland, which took place from the 1950s to the 1970s. The Cod Wars were a time when the British were fishing Icelandic waters and claiming them for their own.  Iceland has no military, so, in order to combat this intrusion, the Icelanders used “trawlers.” These trawlers were used to destroy British nets and eventually forced them to retreat back to England to get new ones–ultimately leading to the British giving up their fight and the Icelanders winning the rights to their waters.

Icelandic trawler used to destroy British nets

Today was filled with adventures and learning. When not on the move, we enjoyed the pristine beauty of Iceland while learning about the maritime industry. By walking through a preserved historical fishing village, meeting with innovators about their plans to eliminate fish waste streams, and understanding the bureaucracy of international waters a little better, these three visits mapped the maritime industry’s past, present and future within Iceland. With this better understanding of Iceland’s past and present, we can begin to see the future and how we as scholars can influence it for the better.