Crowd-sourcing in the 1800’s

So why look to the past to find insights towards moving forward with reading writing and literacy in the future? One example that’s interesting to think of is the development of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), a massive crowd-sourcing project that began in 1850’s.

The OED was built up from the contributions of thousands of amateur philologists all over England and, later, the world. […] A reading program to find quotations in which the history of a word’s progress in the English language might be constructed. The volunteers would look for evidence of the earliest occurrence of a particular word and send a slip of paper with the word in context back to the early directors of the project. (Peña, 2014)


James-MurrayThe collection of this knowledge to be woven together into one accessible resource used to track the evolution of language is creative and insightful. Thinking about this as gathered on millions of of slips of paper filed in a ‘scriptorium’ is also fascinating (OED, 2013). It can be said that this may have had an influence on early internet-based knowledge and information-pooling resources such as Wikipedia. Alternatively, these services may have simply followed a similar methodology but the principles are quite similar. OED resources are vetted for accuracy by academics and scholars, and Wikipedia entries primarily by peers (who may or may not be academics or scholars). It’s interesting to think of how these differences lead to academia’s acceptance of one as an acceptable reference source for academic writing, where the other is not. Wikipedia then for many functions as a launchpad for research and resources.


“James-Murray” by Unknown – Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Oxford English Dictionary (OED). (2013). History of the OED. Retrieved here.

Peña, Ernesto. (2014). Module 1: Introductions and Defining Terms. [Lecture Notes]. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia.

Image source: Tom 7. (2005). Old spines. [Image file]. Retrieved from Flickr under CC by 2.0 License.

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