Dictionary launch

(From the reception in the Divinity School following the lecture by David Howlett on ‘Making the Dictionary’ on Thursday 12th December 2013)

Today we are marking both the centenary and the completion of the Dictionary. First I should like to thank David, who has indeed spoken about some part of that history. His contribution over more than three decades has been immense and so I begin with my thanks to him not only for speaking this evening but also for devoting his life’s work to the cause.

Celebrations of this kind make us look back and reflect, and David’s personal account of the project showed us clearly how the Dictionary has been dependent over the years on its people and on institutions (though not, I hope, to the extent of the dictionary being known by the names of its editors, like Lewis and Short and Liddell/Scott/Jones).

For that reason I have a long list of those I should like thank publicly, and I hope you will bear with me in this because this list, I think, underscores how this collaborative enterprise, conceived as such by Robert Whitwell a century ago, has come to fruition.

I start with the institutions. First, the British Academy – our founder and supporter throughout – represented here this evening by the Publications Secretary, James Rivington. Also the Union Académique Internationale, represented by its Deputy Secretary General, Prof. Jean Luc de Paepe. It is a pleasure also to welcome here representatives of so many of our sister projects from across Europe, including Ireland, Poland, Germany, and Sweden.

The project has had a number of hosts over the years. We are grateful to our first home, the Public Record Office, and our second the Bodleian Library, as well as our current hosts the Department of Plant Sciences, up the road, and to the Oxford University Classics Faculty, which adopted us in a time of need, when funding was uncertain.

We are grateful, indeed, to our funders, first the British Academy, then the Arts and Humanities Research Council. We are particularly grateful to the Packard Humanities Institute for generous funding over more than a decade that has enabled us to reach this point today. We are also grateful to the John Fell Oxford University Press Research Fund.

On the academic side, we are grateful to countless archives and libraries up and down the country for their ready willingness to help. Often a query, couched in the only vaguest terms relating to a document we are not certain they hold and identified by a reference so ancient or insufficient that we hardly dare imagine it might be traced, elicits a response and a photograph of a portion of text within the hour. To all the staff of these archives and libraries we owe a considerable debt.

We are grateful too to the many original slip takers without whom the project would not have got going.

Over the years we have been supervised by a series of committees, and we are grateful to all who have served on these, including some former members here present. In particular I would single out the chairmen of the committee in my time since joining the DMLBS team in 2008, Prof. Jim Adams, who unfortunately was not able to be with us this evening, and Prof. Tobias Reinhardt.

Finally, I turn to the team. David has mentioned the many who have served on the team over the years, and it is a delight to see so many former members here. I note the touching letter in yesterday’s Times newspaper from Avril Powell, one of the first assistant editors, recalling the early days of the dictionary’s drafting at the PRO.

The final fascicule has had a particularly tough deadline and it has been achieved thanks to Peter Glare, our incomparable consultant editor, Tom Wrobel, who has looked after all the data and technical wizardry, and the assistant editors, Carolinne White, Shelagh Sneddon, Kathrin Gowers, Mark Thakkar, and Beppe Pezzini. I’ve spoken a lot – perhaps too much – in the press and media in the last few days, and as a ‘newbie’ I’ve not been as adept at controlling the message of the story as well as I should have liked, but I can say here and now that this would not have happened without them and their herculean efforts. Thank you!

The final word goes to the Dictionary. There is, if you have not already seen it, a magnificent display relating to the Dictionary outside in the Proscholium – for which the credit must go to Shelagh – and it can also be seen online – thanks to Tom. Our conference tomorrow and Saturday will reflect on the content of the Dictionary, but for now we look at the book, and as the last editor, it gives me great pleasure to present one of the first copies to my predecessor, to complete the set that he started work on at C back in 1979. Thank you.