Journey Through Time: The Oxford University Press

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May 14th 2008
Published: May 21st 2008
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The Oxford University PressThe Oxford University PressThe Oxford University Press

Not much actual printing is done here because of outsourcing to places like India.
The Oxford University Press has a long reputation for academic publishing, providing libraries with reliable and useful information. But the tour we received at the publishing house today opened my eyes to so many wonderful things about this historical company. A few years after the Gutenberg printing press was discovered the OUP was learning and employing the new methods of printing in order to provide its students with educational materials. A man with the unfortunate last name of Rude introduced the Gutenberg printing process to Oxford and soon a variety of materials were being printed.

One of my favorite stories was about a book published with what looked like a primitive set of musical notes. We were told that the images we were seeing were in fact musical notes, but the subject matter of the book had nothing to do with music. The book we were looking at was about (honey) bees. Apparently, one professor at Oxford was so obsessed with the subject that he went as far as to attempt to replicate the dull humming sound that bees make.

The moveable type of the primitive press was available for us to look at and touch. The whole process seemed very time consuming and physically tiring. I was able to snap a few shots of an early printing of Shakespeare (spelled without the last e) in a glass case.

Many famous works were initally published through OUP including the very first volume of Lewis Carrol's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The first copies were intended for friends and family only, Carrol not having the mind to publish to the public until the story became immensely popular among his friends. He used a company other than the OUP to print the book. One poem was omitted, however, because Carrol considered the other printing company's result to be unsatisfactory for the effect he was going for. As you can see in the picture, the poem is in the shape of a mouse's tail and to get this effect, Carrol went to the experts to print it: OUP. Entitled The Mouse Tail, the text creates a charming, spiral shape of a mouse's tail.

My favorite part of the tour was when we learned about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. Now, I consider the OED to be a source of great entertainment and pleasure because it gives the full history of a single word and lists the first known usage of it. The idea was a brainchild of a grandfatherly looking man named James Murray. When he proposed the idea to The Oxford University Press, he considered that the project would take perhaps 10 years and require 3000 pounds. His methods, while incredibly efficient and accurate, made the project take much, much longer. After 21 years Murray died having completed the project only from the begininng of the alphabet A to Ant. Forty years later the thing was finally complete, the entire project eventually costing the modern equivilent of billions of dollars.

Apparently the letter saved for last was W for the reason that most English words that start with W have Icelandic or other Nordic origins. I was delighted to learn who the linguistics expert was that took on the difficult job of compiling the words that began with W. Not only did J.R.R. Tolkien do the proper research to provide the bulk of what we have today on the letter W, but he also proposed an entry for the word Hobbit which he himself created for his series of fantasy novels.

A Short Note

I'm starting to acquire one or two postcards that I'd like to send out. I didn't have nearly enough time to get addresses from some of you, so send me your address if you would like a postcard from Oxford!

Additional photos below
Photos: 9, Displayed: 9


A Mouse TaleA Mouse Tale
A Mouse Tale

The printing plate for that special poem that was left to the expertise of the OUP.
A life-sized image of James MurrayA life-sized image of James Murray
A life-sized image of James Murray

And me. Those little boxes behind me are an example of James Murray's system of research. Slips of paper were filed and organized, each with a parenthetical reference of a word he would research and use in the OED.

21st May 2008

Once againI loved the photos -Ivy
25th June 2009

I realy love the university press
I love the university press that I wish I could see it in real one day.I also love oxford university being amazed of one of the oldest and best university in our world.oxford is the leading university in our world due to the british best education given and the most poular book edtion in oxford university press.I wish I will be the member of the university one day. with great respect and love yididya from USA
25th September 2009

Hey Lauren, ur post makes for very interesting reading! Guess I would have to nod my head like a mouse to read his tale! Amazing, all the same :)

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