Thursday, 23 September 2010

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: September 2010 update

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is six years old, and has today published its eighteenth online update. Over a hundred new subjects include a special focus on 'black Britons, 1700-2000' such as prominent London gang-member Ann Duck (bap. 1717 d. 1744), slavery abolitionist and magician Henry Brown (b.c.1815 d. in or after 1878) and nightclub proprietor Ola Dosunmu (1914-1991?) . There are also eight new reference group articles, part of an online series designed to help readers find their way around the dictionary. These include my own contribution on the Foxite whigs, the political followers of Charles James Fox (1749-1806) who were generally more glamorous and notorious than those of Fox's great rival William Pitt the Younger. Other new subjects include Yvonne Fletcher, killed during the protest at the Libyan people's bureau in London in 1984; Jewish scholar Israel Abrahams (1858-1925); eighteenth-century grocer and neglected London policing pioneer Saunders Welch (1711-1784); and Nica de Koenigswarter (1913-1988), patron of the jazz musician Thelonious Monk. There's also a king, Moshoeshoe II of Lesotho (d. 1996). Robert Fabian (1901-1978), Scotland Yard's real life 'ace detective' of the 1930s and 1940s turned television personality in the 1950s series Fabian of the Yard is also added.

Editor Lawrence Goldman's online preface can be read here. Some of the new content is available to read for free, but most of it is behind a paywall; however, most of those in the UK reading this should be able to access the online dictionary through their public library's subscription and remote access service.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The Learned Press

I spent the last two days amidst fellow-contributors to The History of Oxford University Press at Keble College, Oxford. This event was described most determinedly by general editor Simon Eliot as 'not a conference', although the intention - and effect - was that we should confer with each other in formal and informal ways. As a relatively recent recruit, compared to most, I lacked the benefits of long-term exposure to the various channels of communication the project has set up, but left able to put more faces to names and with more of the pathways within and between volumes explored. Multi-authored scholarly work in the humanities faces the challenge of overcoming the often necessary solitude of research and composition, but this meeting reminded us that bridges had been put in place which we contributors could cross. The attendees who thronged Keble's JCR and Pusey Room came from overlapping theatres of academic expertise and varieties of personal and professional histories with OUP. There is still some distance to travel before the four volumes are available on shelves (we had the opportunity to consider what the books might actually look like) but (to extend yet another metaphor) maps have been compared and features common to adjoining territories of printing, bookselling, publishing and educational history surveyed, and (to cross further into contrivance) we know better the contents of each other's backpacks.