Breaking the Dickens Code

An international campaign to decipher the complex code that Charles Dickens used to write his notes has won a Times Higher Education Award, one of the most prestigious prizes in UK Higher Education.

The University of Leicester, in collaboration with the University of Foggia took home the Research Project of the Year: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences trophy at the eighteenth annual THE Awards on 17 November.

The THE Awards, widely referred to as the “Oscars of higher education,” attracts  hundreds of brilliant entries from individuals, teams and institutions, and from around the UK and Ireland.

The winner of the award for Research Project of the Year: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences was the AHRC-funded Dickens Code, led by Dr Claire Wood in the School of Arts in collaboration with Professor Hugo Bowles at the University of Foggia. Charles Dickens is one of the mostly widely read authors in the English language, but there are texts in Dickens’s own hand that remain unread, because they were written in his own form of shorthand. To solve this 150-year-old mystery, they combined the efforts of the Dickens Decoders – volunteers from across the world with an interest in puzzles and codes – with contextual research by academics to enable crowd-created transcription of two of Dickens’s mysterious shorthand texts.

The judges described the project as an “inspirational development of a small-scale research problem”. They were impressed by its “imaginative deployment of interdisciplinary expertise, the international liaison, the use of ‘crowd-creation’ to find solutions, and the exemplary communication and exploitation of results.“It is an exciting model of how localised research can be vividly extended into other domains addressing far-sighted objectives.”

Dr Claire Wood of the School of Arts at the University of Leicester said: “I am beyond thrilled to accept this award on behalf of the Dickens Code team. It is testimony, both to the enduring global interest in Dickens’s life and works, and to the efforts of the Dickens Decoders, who approached the challenges of Dickens’s mysterious shorthand with such imagination and tenacity. It also demonstrates the power of international, interdisciplinary collaboration and the use of public engagement to solve complex research questions. We’d like to thank everyone who has supported the project, including members of our academic network, our museum and library partners, and our followers around the world!”


This entry was posted in Books, Europe, History, Libraries, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.