by Symone R. Blount
Symone R. Blount, a History major at the University of Central Florida, wrote this reflection for an independent study course during the Fall 2021 semester.
Samuel Johnson is known as one of the greatest figures of life and letters. His work as a lexicographer and writer is why the eighteenth century is often regarded as the “Age of Johnson.” Some background on Johnson was that he grew up in a middle-class family. Throughout his life, he struggled with depression and money troubles. At one point, Johnson married Elizabeth Jervis, a woman decades his senior, only to burn through her money in less than a year. He moved to London to focus on writing but found little success. Though his stories provided him with enough income to survive, Johnson remained unsatisfied. Eventually, he was approached by a group of publishers about compiling an English dictionary. These talks would change his life and legacy forever. Johnson’s Dictionary reflects the type of literature Samuel Johnson adored. He believed that highlighting certain words would benefit different communities of English speakers. Samuel Johnson was well known for illustrating word definitions by quoting renowned authors such as Shakespeare, Milton, and Dryden. The use of quotations made Johnson’s Dictionary the longest English dictionary to be published at that point.
I contributed to the Johnson’s Dictionary project as a proofreader. My job focused mostly on proofreading words that began with the letter s and c. I made a pretty good dent in most of them and hope to continue my progress as a volunteer next semester. My contributions benefited this project by helping Johnson’s Dictionary Online to become easier to navigate. One of the goals that I wanted to achieve was to help make sure that the dictionary was presentable to the public. I believe that I can comfortably say that I did. After proofreading dozens of words, I am excited to encourage people to check out Johnson’s Dictionary Online. Whenever I am searching for a new word to introduce into my vocabulary, I will definitely make sure Johnson’s Dictionary Online is the first virtual stop I make.
My work on the Johnson’s Dictionary project benefited me by reminding me how much I enjoy literature. Since I was a child, I have been an avid reader. However, I find that during the school semester, it is difficult for me toread for pleasure. While working on Johnson’s Dictionary, I found that same pleasure I used to feel through reading the quotes that accompanied each definition. The ones that I particularly enjoyed were by Milton and Locke. These passages reminded me why I love English and history during a period where I was questioning both. Proofreading was also therapeutic, most times I did my assignment over the weekend. I was able to listen to instrumental music ranging from classical music such as Claude Debussy and Erik Satie and soundtracks such as Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter. This music allowed me to focus fully on the work and provided a safe, comfortable space for me to fall back on throughout the semester.
Working on the Johnson’s Dictionary project showed me why I wanted to study Literature at a college level. At the University of Central Florida, I study History and Political Science but have always yearned to take English classes. This is the reason I jumped at the opportunity to work on this project. I loved the idea of studying literature without affecting my major progression. Promising that I would work three hours a week on Johnson’s Dictionary allowed me time to think about why I wanted to study English. Eventually, I came to the decision to extend my undergraduate career by one semester to minor in Literature. I officially declared my new minor last week and have signed up for my first college-level literature course. To say that I am excited is an understatement, I cannot wait to discuss English with my peers and Professors and explore an avenue of learning that I have yet to trek down. Working on the Johnson’s Dictionary project will hold a special place in my heart because of this.
My work on the Johnson’s Dictionary project benefits others by making Johnson’s Dictionary more accessible to the public. In a world of technology, digitizing dictionaries does not only conserve space in peoples’ homes, but it also offers individuals an extra understanding of how Johnson’s dictionary came to be. Johnson’s Dictionary online also provides resources that relate to the dictionary such as a background of Samuel Johnson, how Johnson’s dictionary originated, and how the online dictionary came to be. These resources are important because they help to contextualize the dictionary and further individuals’ understanding of its historical significance. It is truly a gem of a site. In closing, I would like to thank Dr. Beth Young for being so open and welcoming throughout this Fall semester. It is a hard thing to make sure that everyone is on the same page on a project of this scale, but Dr. Young did a great job in encouraging open dialogue. This experience was wonderful, and as I have mentioned, I am excited to return back in Spring 2022 as a volunteer!