Wednesday, 29 October 2014

A History of the World in 100 Sheds: No 5 The Scriptorium

Shedman is a regular and grateful user of the Oxford English Dictionary online. Today, it's probably the best dictionary in the world and it began life in a garden shed called 'The Scriptorium'!

 Of all those involved with the first edition of the OED, it was James Murray (1837-1915) who made the greatest single contribution. An article in the Scottish Review by editor Kenneth Roy referred to his "single-minded tenacity". Murray was the son of a draper, "born in the village of Denholm, near Hawick, who left school at 14."

Murray started the project working in his corrugated iron Scriptorium, lined with wooden planks, bookshelves and 1,029 pigeon-holes for the quotation slips. In one of the earliest examples of crowdsourcing, Murray asked newspaper readers to report “as many quotations as you can for ordinary words” and for words that were “rare, obsolete, old-fashioned, new, peculiar or used in a peculiar way”. 1,000 quotation slips arrived daily to the Scriptorium, and by 1882, there were 3,500,000. "The volume of correspondence at the Scriptorium was so great," according to Kenneth Roy, "that the Post Office erected a special pillar-box on the site. Murray worked at the Herculean undertaking for 36 years and died 13 years before the dictionary was finally published in 1928."

Sunnyside, 78, Banbury Road Oxford where Murray built his Scriptorium - with thanks to Cassini Maps Blog
Murray had to obtain permission to build his Scriptorium from St John's College who owned the land. The college refused to allow its erection in the front garden so it was eventually built behind the north of the house, sunk about fifteen feet into the ground in order not to obscure next door's view. The Scriptorium has long since been demolished, but the letter box still stands.


According to Examining the OED Murray's mottoes were " 'Knowledge is power' and 'Nihil est melius quam vita diligentissima' (nothing is better than a life of utmost diligence). He was to pursue these aims with unremitting consistency and fortitude over the course of his long life." More detail on the history of the project and Murray's herculean commitment can be found on the OED's own website.

Murray "conceived of the dictionary as a national project, a co-operative effort, saying, in 1900, 'The English Dictionary, like the English Constitution, is the creation of no one man, and of no one age; it is a growth that has slowly developed itself down the ages' ... Yet, while he saw it as a cumulative evolutionary process, Murray recognised the leap forward that had been taken in his own time: 'It can be maintained that in the Oxford Dictionary, permeated as it is through and through with the scientific method of the century, Lexicography has for the present reached its supreme development'. (Examining the OED)

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A History of the World in 100 Sheds: No. 4 Romulus' hut

Oh, little did the Wolf-Child care--
  When first he planned his home, 
What City should arise and bear
  The weight and state of Rome.
From Romulus and Remus by Rudyard Kipling

At the very begining of the Roman empire, there's a shed. The hut built by Romulus around 753 BC.

In Tom Holland's brilliant Rubicon - The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic (Abacus 2005 P19-20) he writes:
“Of all Rome’s seven hills, however, the Palatine was the most exclusive by far. Here the city’s elite chose to cluster. Only the very, very rich could afford the prices. Yet, incongruously, there on the world’s most expensive real estate stood a shepherd’s hut made of reeds. The reeds might dry and fall away, but they would always be replaced, so that the hut never seemed to alter. It was the ultimate triumph of Roman conservatism - the childhood home of Romulus, Rome’s first king, and Remus, his twin.
“According the the legend, both brothers had decided to found a city, but they could not agree where, nor what name it should have. Romulus had stood on the Palatine, Remus on the Aventine, both of them waiting for a sign from the gods. Remus had seen six vultures flying overhead, but Romulus had seen twelve. Taking this as incontrovertible proof of divine backing, Romulus had promptly fortified the Palatine and named the new city after himself. Remus, in a fury of jealousy and resentment, had ended up murdered by his brother in a brawl. This had irrevocably fixed the two hills’ destinies. From that moment on, the Palatine would be for winners, the Aventine for losers. Success and failure, prestige and shame - there expressed in the very geography of the city, were the two poles around which Roman life evolved.”

Today, signs on the Palatino direct the visitor to the Romulean Huts near the Casa di Augusto.

According to Wikipedia, the original Casa Romuli ("hut of Romulus"), also known as the tugurium Romuli, was located "on the south-western corner of the Palatine hill, where it slopes down towards the Circus Maximus, near the so-called 'Steps of Cacus'. It was a traditional single-roomed peasants' hut, with a straw roof and wattle-and-daub walls, such as are reproduced in miniature in the distinctive funerary urns of the so-called Latial culture (ca. 1000 - ca. 600 BC)."
Funeral hut urns in the Vatican Museum

Carneades, the Greek philosopher thought the Romans ought to go back where they belonged:
“Even the Romans, the masters of the world, if they want to be fair and return what belongs to others, should return to their huts and live in poverty and misery.” Carneades (2nd century - quoted in a display at the Colisseum, Rome.)

More references
"What I find important is that this site is the most direct link we have to that April day so very long ago and that this hut, or one so very like it, gave rise to the massive and sprawling palaces that surround it." Maul Aelius in a thread on Ancient Worlds