UCF researchers, led by Associate Professor of English Beth Rapp Young, have launched a new digital version of Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language. Made available to the public April 15, which is the 266th anniversary of the first edition’s publication, this digital tool empowers readers to search the dictionary’s more than 43,000 words online for the first time. This project is the result of years of labor and a $350,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
“I’ve been a long-time fan of Samuel Johnson and his dictionary,” says Young, principal investigator of this project. “When I began teaching History of the English Language online, I discovered that an independent scholar, Brandi Besalke, was getting Johnson’s Dictionary transcribed through crowdsourcing, and I enlisted my students to help. When the dictionary was nearly 10% completed, she decided to move on to other projects and she transferred the site to me. I spoke with colleagues at UCF’s Center for Humanities and Digital Research about setting it up, and they encouraged me to seek NEH funding.”
Johnson’s Dictionary is more than today’s average dictionary. Known for his wit and literary knowledge, Johnson created a dictionary that was not only understandable, but enjoyable to read. Authors that had their works featured in the dictionary were given literary legitimacy. The combination of Johnson’s wit, literary references and inclusion of everyday words has made this 2,000-page dictionary a major piece of English literature.
“Not only does it help us understand texts written during the 18th and 19th centuries, but it is often cited in legal contexts, including by the U.S. Supreme Court, because it was the standard dictionary when the founding documents of the United States were written,” says Young.
Following the release of the digital dictionary, researchers will roll out updates to the website on a regular basis. Future updates include improved search functions, copying images of every entry displayed alongside the transcription, transcriptions of Johnson’s dictionary essays, user accounts and the complete fourth folio edition.
In addition to Young, collaborators on the project include co-principal investigator Jack Lynch, a professor of English at Rutgers University and a Johnson scholar; co-principal investigator Carmen Faye Mathes, an assistant professor at the University of Regina; co-principal investigator Amy Larner Giroux ’85 ’09MA ’14PhD, associate director of UCF’s Center for Humanities and Digital Research; programmer/data analyst Connie Harper ’93; XML editor/social media manager Abigail Moreshead ’11 ’17MA, a graduate student in UCF’s Texts & Technology PhD program; and senior XML analyst William Dorner ’07 ’10MA ’15PhD, an instructional technology coordinator with UCF’s Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning.
This web resource has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this story do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.