A British Academy video has been released recording some of the story of the project. It was made in the project offices in early September 2014, just under a month before the project’s end, in the period when books, slips and archives were prepared for their moves.
Yesterday we celebrated the 90th birthday of our consultant editor Peter Glare with a party hosted by Oxford University Press attended by family and friends.
Peter’s contribution to classical scholarship is inestimable. He became editor of the Oxford Latin Dictionary in 1954, taking on a project which had until then been in a state of near disarray and had relatively little to show for the years of work since its inception in 1933. Peter put the project on a sound footing and brought his immense linguistic acuteness to bear on the task, leading the small team of lexicographers to complete this major project. The resulting dictionary, first published in eight fascicules between 1968 and 1982, has been widely acclaimed since its first publication and it is now the standard scholarly reference for latinists in the Anglophone world and beyond.
After thirty years working on Latin, Peter then turned his lexicographical talents to the service of classical Greek scholarship, editing the revised Supplement to Liddell/Scott/Jones’ Greek Lexicon from 1981 through to its publication in 1996. Like the OLD, LSJ is a standard scholarly reference dictionary, and its revised Supplement is an essential companion that enables this venerable work to encompass the new evidence of the language that has emerged in recent decades.
Both dictionaries are essential reference tools that have been used every day by scholars worldwide since they were first published, and they will continue to be used for many decades, maybe even centuries, to come. Peter’s is truly a service to classical scholarship without rival.
Having completed two major lexicographical projects, Peter in retirement took up a fresh challenge, as consultant editor for the DMLBS, checking quotations, and reading and commenting on drafts of entries. There is not a page of the DMLBS in that period that has not been greatly enriched by his acute and wise comments. Moreover, as well as being a huge academic support to the project, he has also been throughout the most congenial of colleagues in the team.
Today is the final day of the DMLBS project in its current form.
Publication in 2013 of the final fascicule of the DMLBS was the completion of a publication first envisaged in the 1920s, forming the British part of a pan-European UAI scheme to replace Du Cange’s seventeenth-century Glossarium in line with the plan suggested by R. J. Whitwell in 1913.
Since the start of the 2014 the editorial team has gradually disbanded, and the project’s library and resources have been progressively found new homes. Today sees the conclusion of that process, with the project finally vacating its offices on the last official day of work for the two remaining team members.
In the final three years of the project we were committed to our funders (the AHRC, PHI, and the John Fell OUP Research Fund) to produce three outputs. These were the printed dictionary, a full dataset for the dictionary, and a plan for its online publication. These have all been produced; we also hosted a highly successful conference on Latin in medieval Britain in December 2013. It is thus with a real sense of achievement that we reach the end of this phase of the project’s long history and enter a new one.
We wish to record thanks once again to the many supporters of the dictionary over its history, whether their contribution has been to research, administration, funding, or in any other area. The work of the project would not have been accomplished without everything that they have done.
In closing, we should like to outline some practical matters concerning the future of the DMLBS.
There is more about the progress of our on-going electronic publication plans in another post; these plans will certainly form a major part of the future of the DMLBS. The printed dictionary remains available.
The dictionary’s committee will continue in a much-reduced form, to oversee the future of the DMLBS (Prof. Reinhardt, Prof. Reeve, Prof. Brand, and Dr Ashdowne); we are grateful to the members of the committee who have now stood down for their invaluable service over the last few years.
The project’s offices close today: accordingly the project’s telephone number ceases to be active and mail should no longer be directed there. In future any enquiries relating to the project should in the first instance be directed by e-mail, which will continue to be monitored.
In this post we set out the present position with regard to online publication of the DMLBS.
As one of the promised outputs from the currently funded project, work on a plan for online publication began promptly at the start of the current grant period to maximise the time available to obtain funding for its implementation and implement it alongside the on-going final editorial work. We evaluated a broad range of possible options for development, hosting, maintenance, and funding. The eventual plan, which was developed in collaboration with the Bodleian Library’s Digital Library Systems and Services (BDLSS), formed the basis for applications for funding of its implementation. Central to our decision to pursue this collaborative route was consideration of long-term sustainability beyond the planned end of the project.
As regular users of medieval and early modern written materials, we are extremely conscious of the digital paradox. Digital resources offer new possibilities not available in non-digital materials, but while copies of DuCange’s printed work are still usable more than three centuries after its production and the project has often used state records at the National Archives that are more than seven hundred years old, it is not uncommon for more recent formats to become inaccessible in less than a lifetime due to technological changes.
Electronic resources are inherently fragile and future technology uncertain. Thus our plan and intended collaboration recognised the vital importance of ensuring the sustainability of the resource once development, and indeed the project itself, had been wound up. A system developed for the dictionary would require regular rebuilding to keep it compatible with current technology.
In fact, all electronic systems are also at the mercy of their unavoidable dependence on other systems. This point has been thrown into sharp relief by the emergence of the Shellshock security vulnerabilities in the last week (and of Heartbleed in April of this year). Thus not only would a system eventually go offline simply due to the march of technology, it is easy to see that an online DMLBS could suddenly be forced offline due to a security issue in some standard component on which it relied, and without resources to enable its restoration it might remain down indefinitely.
Connected to software dependency of this kind is also dependence on the availability of a suitable infrastructure. The system requires an institution to host it, and that institution needs to inspire confidence in its own durability and in its long-term commitment to providing the necessary infrastructure for hosting our resource.
With all this in mind, our plan of collaborative development with BDLSS allowed us to be confident of a secure future environment for the resource, always provided that suitable finance could be found for initial development and on-going support.
To this end, we envisaged as an ideal obtaining both funding of the set-up costs and an endowment to provide ongoing income for hosting, maintenance, and periodic rebuilding (such an endowment would also provide the security of financial independence that would enable transferring or rebuilding the resource elsewhere should its host environment no long be secure).
However, an application for combined funding for both the initial development and an endowment to provide for the long-term hosting, maintenance, and periodic rebuilding of an online publication of the DMLBS did not meet with success.
For reasons of continuity and efficiency, the initial development of the resource was planned to run concurrently with the final months of the project, with parts of the development done within the team alongside parts by BDLSS. Though the lack of success for the development and endowment application introduced a very significant delay in our ability to make progress and led to a need to reallocate the development work within the plan entirely to BDLSS (with their agreement), adequate time remained for us to retain the planned schedule in taking our next step; it was, however, clear that a strict timetable would have to be maintained if the plan were to be successfully implemented.
While still bearing in mind sustainability, we then sought to fund just the initial development of an online publication, for which an application to the John Fell OUP Research Fund was successful; we planned instead to use the initial period of availability of the resource to raise the funds and make arrangements to secure its long-term future.
Sadly, however, it did not in the end prove possible for BDLSS to undertake the initial development work within the strict timeframe we had been able to allow for in that application and consequently the project was obliged with regret to discontinue the BDLSS work, returning the associated funding.
Although as a result no development work is presently under way, the project remains committed to sustainable online publication of the DMLBS and, in renewed consultation with the British Academy, is currently actively pursuing alternative strategies with other potential partners. We hope to be able to make further announcements about the nature and timing of these plans in the coming months. In the meantime we would ask you to bear with us.
As the process of disbanding the project continues, the offices are becoming increasingly empty. Two big moves have now taken place with further moves scheduled.
The house collection of books is no longer with us. Books have been returned to their respective libraries, some having been on loan for so long that the libraries had long since forgotten we had them; others have gone back to their owners. A substantial chunk of the collection was of books from the Bodleian Library, which has been an invaluable support to the project for more than three decades: these books will eventually form the core of an open-shelves collection in the new Weston Library that is due to be opened any day now, and they will be accompanied by a substantial donation of the DMLBS’s own books in recognition of the Library’s contribution to the project over the years.
The collection of slips is also on the move. Collected for the DMLBS project since the 1920s, more than 200 boxes containing around 750,000 slips are now being transferred to the team in France compiling the pan-European Novum Glossarium thanks to funding for the move from the UAI. We hope that they will prove to be an invaluable resource for that team’s research.
The DMLBS offices in Oxford will close permanently on 30 Sept 2014.