Case Studies/Dictionary of Sydney

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dictionary, archive, history, Sydney, Australia


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The Dictionary of Sydney (DoS) is a project to establish a digital encyclopaedia of the history of Sydney, Australia.

If it happened in Sydney, then it belongs in the Dictionary. Through richly interconnected text, multimedia and maps, the Dictionary will tell the story of Sydney’s history and make it available through a wide range of digital possibilities.


The goal of the Dictionary of Sydney (DoS) project is to build a self-sustaining repository of historical information on Sydney, Australia, assembled from newly commissioned entries as well as underlying multimedia and spatial information. There is no one name to cover the Dictionary’s ambit, according to its information package: it is concurrently a dictionary, encyclopaedia, atlas, guidebook, and gazetteer. It represents Sydney ‘then’ and Sydney ‘now,’ from convict settlement to global metropolis, embracing the city in its natural and built forms, its botany and geology, with a canvas stretching from Pittwater to Port Hacking and out to the Blue Mountains. The Dictionary’s content will grow over the coming years, bringing to life the characters, political players, writers, dreamers, sports people, and even criminals who have made the city what it is today. The project will record urban myths, discussing major themes and debates in Sydney’s history.

‘The Dictionary of Sydney, “born digital” to take advantage of the latest developments in information engineering and technology, will be an interconnected web of text, maps and multimedia, accessible on your computer anywhere in the world or through your mobile device as you move through the city it describes. The Dictionary will interest, educate, entertain and inspire.’

Contributions to the Dictionary are sought from academics, writers, and members of the general public, through community groups such as historical societies and local libraries. Drawing together a range of entries, the Dictionary of Sydney will include:

  • short targeted pieces of information;
  • a vast range of topics suitable for quick reference;
  • longer contributions involving new scholarship;
  • oral histories, photographs, maps and artistic representations; and
  • audio recordings and moving images.

Specialists will employ cutting-edge technology to store and present the information, defining best practice for digital archiving. According to DoS Project Manager, Stewart Wallace, the Dictionary will preferably be managed by an ontology (or at least a sophisticated taxonomy) which will provide organisation, context and navigation for the site’s users and contributors. Material in the Dictionary’s repository will be presented initially as a website; future plans exist for it to be exposed in other ways – mobile, web service, print-on-demand, and so on – whether as part of this project or by other parties given access to the repository.

The project is run under the auspices of the not-for-profit Dictionary of Sydney Trust. It is supported financially and in-kind through the City of Sydney, and by a number of Sydney-based cultural institutions. In 2005 the project was awarded an Australian Research Council (ARC) grant through the cooperative efforts of the University of Sydney, together with the City of Sydney, University of Technology Sydney, the State Library and State Records, New South Wales.

License Usage

The Dictionary of Sydney’s Copyright and IP Policy specifies three key points:

  • Authors keep copyright in their work.
  • Authors are responsible for ensuring that they do not submit material for which copyright clearance has not been obtained.
  • The Dictionary reserves the right to reformat material to take advantage of the possibilities of digital presentation. We will not, of course, do anything to alter the substantive meaning of an author's words and authors will always be acknowledged.

Many contributing authors have licensed their work under CC BY-SA 2.5 AU. These articles are clearly marked with the license icon.


The Dictionary of Sydney project has considered the adoption of open content licensing to enable broad reuse of material hosted in the Dictionary. DoS Project Manager Stewart Wallace has expressed this philosophy in an email interview with Rachel Cobcroft from Creative Commons Australia:

‘We are seeking an open but manageable regime which will encourage the widest possible deployment of the material in the Dictionary, at times through third-parties, while maintaining sufficient protection for contributors through appropriate attribution. We are not in a position to support a very complex rights system.’


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