The print MED, completed in 2001, has been described as “the greatest achievement in medieval scholarship in America.” Its 15,000 pages offer a comprehensive analysis of lexicon and usage for the period 1100-1500, based on the analysis of a collection of over three million citation slips, the largest collection of this kind available. This electronic version of the MED preserves all the details of the print MED, but goes far beyond this, by converting its contents into an enormous database, searchable in ways impossible within any print dictionary.
The interface is, as aldi says, clunky, but really, who cares? What a treasure! The press release says:
The database includes information on the origins of technical writing, popular culture, notable literary works, medicine, law, science, ship-building, encyclopedias, translations of the Bible, maps, letters, wills, acts of State, recipes, philosophy, mathematics and numerous other subjects, providing a distant mirror of Medieval culture and society. In addition to the linked information, the dictionary also provides the full, searchable text of more than 100 important Medieval documents in their entirety.
“We’ve always wanted to see an interlinked web of dictionaries that together cover the very multilingual world of medieval Britain along with antecedent and successor languages,” said Paul Schaffner of U-M’s Digital Library Production Service. “The division between dictionaries has always been rather artificial in a multilingual society where words tend to slip back and forth between languages. There are many words, especially commercial and legal words that cannot be easily assigned to one language or another.”
The need for free access to this resource was made apparent by inquiries from around the world. Now the English teacher in Uganda can finish a translation of a Middle English mystery play for his students, the English gentleman attempting to determine the origin of his surname on behalf of a society of those with the same name will find an easier path to success and independent scholars and emeritus faculty will have full access for their research. Students at various colleges and universities who use the Middle English Dictionary for class assignments will be able to complete their assignments from home computers…