My main research interest is in the history and editing of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and associated matters, e.g. what the dictionary tells us about the language of individual writers (Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and others), and how it reflects the culture of the 19th-21st centuries (views on literature, politics, sexuality, gender etc). My research website, relaunched in November 2019 in a redesigned site created by a Hertford alumnus, Christopher Whalen, is Examining the OED. Since 2020 I have been collaborating with Dr Stephen Turton on a pilot edition of the Murray Papers in the Bodleian Library, Oxford – James Murray was chief editor of the OED from 1879 to 1915. More about this project, funded by the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust, can be seen at The Murray Scriptorium.
I was educated at Lewes Priory comprehensive school in East Sussex and at the universities of Oxford and Toronto. I’ve been a fellow of Hertford College since 1990, working half time over 1998-2004 to look after my children.
I teach Middle English and English Language topics to undergraduates reading English.
Since 2000 or so my research has focused on the history and editing of the OED, from its beginnings in the late 1850s up to and including the online version (www.oed.com). I am investigating the changes now being made to OED’s vastly influential picture of the language by the ambitious revision of the dictionary underway at Oxford since the 1990s, due to be complete in a couple of decades or so. I’m particularly interested in the ways that OED has recorded the language of canonical literary writers – Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, and so on – and whether the plethora of quotation evidence in OED from such sources tells you more about the history of the language or the history of the OED itself. Full details can be found at Examining the OED and an interview can be read on Oxford University’s Research in Conversation series.
Previously I worked as a medievalist, mainly on the editing of the 14th-century Middle English poem Piers Plowman.
‘The Future of Historical Dictionaries, With Special Reference to the Online OED and Thesaurus’, in Howard Jackson, ed., The Bloomsbury Companion to Lexicography; 2nd edition (Bloomsbury: London), forthcoming 2021
‘“Aggravated Mischief”: Editing and Digitizing the Papers of Sir James Murray’, Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America, forthcoming 2021 (co-authored with Stephen Turton)
‘Ghosts of the Past and the Oxford English Dictionary’, in Linda Pillière and Karine Bigand, eds., Ghosts, Memory and Identity (Routledge: London), forthcoming 2021
‘When I feel inclined to read poetry I take down my Dictionary’, in Andrew Blades and Piers Pennington, ed., Poetry and the Dictionary (Liverpool University Press, 2020), 26-56
‘The Lexicography of Standard Varieties of English’, in The Cambridge History of World Lexicography, ed. John Considine (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2019), 484-508
‘Setting a Standard: Authors and Sources in the OED’, in Linda Pillière et al, ed., Norms and Margins in English Usage (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2018), 127-143
‘Shakespeare and the OED’, in The Cambridge Guide to the Worlds of Shakespeare, ed. Bruce Smith et al (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2016) vol 1, 240-45
‘Monarchs and minnows vs broadband and bungee jumping: “language as it is used” in children’s English language dictionaries’. English Today 32 (2016), 31-37.
‘Metalanguage and labelling in English dictionaries’, in Philip Durkin, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Lexicography (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2015), 488-500
‘OED Online Re-launched: Distinguishing old scholarship from new’, Dictionaries 34 (2013), 101-26
‘The future of historical dictionaries’, in The Bloomsbury Companion to Lexicography, ed. Howard Jackson (Bloomsbury: London, 2013), 341-54
‘Words and Dictionaries: OED, MED and Chaucer’, in Traditions and Innovations in the Study of Middle English Literature: The Influence of Derek Brewer, ed. Charlotte Brewer and Barry Windeatt (D. S. Brewer: Woodbridge, 2013), 215-61
‘Dictionary-making, usage, literature and the classics: the unhappy fate of Oxford’s Quarto dictionary 1925-1958’, in Codification, canons, and curricula, ed Ulrich Busse, Ralf Schneider, and Anne Schröder (Aisthesis Verlag: Bielefeld, 2012), 167-82
‘Shakespeare, word-coining, and the OED’, Shakespeare Survey Volume 65 (2013), 345-57
‘“Goose-quill or Gander’s”? Female writers in Johnson’s Dictionary’, in Samuel Johnson: The Arc of the Pendulum, ed. Freya Johnston and Lynda Mugglestone (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2012), 120-39
‘“Happy Copiousness”? OED’s recording of female authors of the eighteenth century’, Review of English Studies 63 (2012), 86-117