Letter from the Editor

Since it first appeared in 1949, the Oxford Classical Dictionary has gone through four editions, always expanding but always true to its original aim of providing "an authoritative one-volume guide to all aspects of the ancient world." No small task. And no small volume! It took OCD1 990 pages to do the job. By 2012, OCD4 needed nearly 1,650, as its editors strained to keep pace with both the increase in knowledge and—an even greater challenge—with the changing interests, approaches, and interpretations that give the field of Classical Studies its distinctive vibrancy. And even then, reviewers were beginning to notice that what had always been a difficult task was becoming impossible. Keeping up to date with facts, bibliographies, and trends was hard enough. Representing without maps and illustrations a field that increasingly blends text-based, historically-based, and material-based lines of inquiry is even harder, and expanding the volume’s range into a burgeoning field of recent interest like reception studies without photographs and film clips could be an exercise in frustration. Nor is the OCD’s prized single-volume format quite the virtue it once was, and not just because that single volume is becoming unwieldy: few beside the inveterate book-lovers of my own generation now reach first for the shelf when an even wider array of information is immediately to hand on any number of devices with internet access.

The obvious escape from such limitations lies, of course, in a digital OCD, and our new, fifth edition will indeed be digital, by which I mean not a digital version of a printed resource, but a new kind of research tool specifically designed to put modern technical capabilities at the service of modern scholarly needs. We took the text of OCD4 as our starting point (no need to reinvent the wheel), but then began to think afresh about what a reference work ought to be in this increasingly digital age. Open an entry in the new OCD and you will still find a core text of the traditional kind, but whenever appropriate you will also increasingly find illustrations chosen to inform (and not just to decorate) and links that provide ready access to further sources of information. Expanded capability also promises expanded coverage. Where OCD4 had defined sixteen areas of editorial responsibility, we now have twenty-two, allowing us to pay more attention to areas like material culture, philosophy, and reception studies, to acknowledge the importance of new approaches in sub-fields like economics, geography, and law, and to move chronologically into late antiquity and geographically into the ancient Near East. Admittedly, this is still a work in progress. There are no clear models for what we are trying to do, and we don’t really know at this point how much a born digital reference work of this type can actually achieve. But the only way to find out is to try…and to see what happens.

Yet with all our talk of change and the excitement that change can bring, it’s also important to remember what must remain unchanged. The OCD’s reputation for authority and clarity was earned by a succession of editors and contributors as dedicated to the dissemination of knowledge as to its creation. Their tireless and uncompromising efforts created a wonderful tool. The challenge now is to insure that in our eagerness to broaden its range and extend its capabilities we don’t compromise the standards that made the OCD what it is today. That means everything from keeping the respect of our A-list contributors, to preserving our rigorous tradition of peer review, to maintaining in a digital format OUP’s reputation for high production standards. We can’t afford to forget that, ultimately, users will be paying to consult the OCD in a world where ever more information (and what passes for information) is available for free. Ours must be a resource genuinely worth the cost. That’s the only way we can hope to pass on to our successors a tool as authoritative and as versatile as the one our predecessors left to us.

The ultimate goal—and this cannot be said often enough—is not just an OCD with bells and whistles, but a more muscular, more capable, more versatile work than ever before. Its commitment to the highest standards of scholarly and editorial rigor cannot and will not change. The OCD has a new form, but it remains the OCD.

Sander Goldberg, Former Editor in Chief, 2013-2017
Oxford Classical Dictionary