Friday, June 12, 2009

John Flinn and the DCB

Down yesterday to the University of Toronto to have a drink in honour of John Flinn, who has just endowed the Dictionary of Canadian Biography with a couple of hundred thousand dollars to sustain its endeavours, particularly in translation.

Appropriately, the DCB responded with a biography. They told us Flinn, born in 1920, went to Harbord Collegiate in the 1930s and studied Greek, Latin, German, French, and English there. He spent much of the war listening to German military radio traffic, then spent most of a decade in France working up one of those immense French doctorates in medieval French literature (and yet still speaks the language with one of those charming Toronto accents). And then he did the French to English translation for all the DCB volumes from 1966 to 1998. Well, he might still do a little something for them if they asked, he said yesterday. He's only 89.

Interesting question arose. Will the DCB (now fifty years old) continue that long line of handsome volumes -- or will future development be entirely online? John English, the general editor, mentioned that the average length of stay for a visitor to the DBC online is eleven minutes -- apparently that is huge, for online statistics. (Scholarship with an attention span of eleven minutes?)
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