inspiration making

Shared making of the Oxford English Dictionary

Yesterday I wrote about Storybird and how it enables a form of shared making through an online interface using email to notify authors when it is their turn. This reminded me of a very definitely non-technological example of the shared making of books..

Making the Oxford English Dictionary

From when the gargantuan project of compiling the Oxford English Dictionary began in 1857 it would take 71 years until the first edition was published. The third editor, James Murray, worked on the project for 36 years but died before he saw it completed. As part of his tasks Murray oversaw hundreds of volunteer readers and contributors who would painstakingly search out early examples of the use of words and send them to Murray by post. As a result of this mail-enabled shared making method, the first Oxford English Dictionary contained 414,825 words, and 1,827,306 illustrative quotations.

Contributors were not all academics and linguists. J.R.R. Tolkein was a volunteer while one of the most notorious, and prolific, contributors was Dr W. C. Minor, a murderer and certified inmate of Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Confined at Broadmoor with his collection of rare books, Minor happened upon Murray’s call for ‘men of letters’ to become Oxford English Dictionary volunteers in the early 1880s and began scouring his collection for the first or best uses of words.

If the project took place today it would almost certainly be termed a ‘crowd-sourcing’ project and would be built as a wiki (see What does this non-digital shared making project suggest? That times change, technologies move on but ideas remain the same, or perhaps that we shouldn’t let technology get in the way of carrying out a good idea..?