An encyclopedia (American English), encyclopædia, or encyclopaedia (British English) is a reference work or compendium providing summaries of knowledge either from all branches or from a particular field or discipline. Encyclopedias are divided into articles or entries that are often arranged alphabetically by article name and sometimes by thematic categories. Encyclopedia entries are longer and more detailed than those in most dictionaries. Generally speaking, encyclopedia articles focus on factual information concerning the subject named in the article's title; this is unlike dictionary entries, which focus on linguistic information about words, such as their etymology, meaning, pronunciation, use, and grammatical forms.
Encyclopedias have existed for around 2,000 years and have evolved considerably during that time as regards language (written in a major international or a vernacular language), size (few or many volumes), intent (presentation of a global or a limited range of knowledge), cultural perspective (authoritative, ideological, didactic, utilitarian), authorship (qualifications, style), readership (education level, background, interests, capabilities), and the technologies available for their production and distribution (hand-written manuscripts, small or large print runs, Internet). As a valued source of reliable information compiled by experts, printed versions found a prominent place in libraries, schools and other educational institutions.
Indeed, the purpose of an encyclopedia is to collect knowledge disseminated around the globe; to set forth its general system to the men with whom we live, and transmit it to those who will come after us, so that the work of preceding centuries will not become useless to the centuries to come; and so that our offspring, becoming better instructed, will at the same time become more virtuous and happy, and that we should not die without having rendered a service to the human race in the future years to come.
Two Greek words misunderstood as one
The word encyclopedia (encyclo|pedia) comes from the Koine Greek ἐγκύκλιος παιδεία, transliterated enkyklios paideia, meaning 'general education' from enkyklios (ἐγκύκλιος), meaning 'circular, recurrent, required regularly, general' and paideia (παιδεία), meaning 'education, rearing of a child'; together, the phrase literally translates as 'complete instruction' or 'complete knowledge'. However, the two separate words were reduced to a single word due to a scribal error by copyists of a Latin manuscript edition of Quintillian in 1470. The copyists took this phrase to be a single Greek word, enkyklopaedia, with the same meaning, and this spurious Greek word became the New Latin word encyclopaedia, which in turn came into English. Because of this compounded word, fifteenth-century readers and since have often, and incorrectly, thought that the Roman authors Quintillian and Pliny described an ancient genre.
The modern encyclopedia was developed from the dictionary in the 18th century. Historically, both encyclopedias and dictionaries have been researched and written by well-educated, well-informed content experts, but they are significantly different in structure. A dictionary is a linguistic work which primarily focuses on alphabetical listing of words and their definitions. Synonymous words and those related by the subject matter are to be found scattered around the dictionary, giving no obvious place for in-depth treatment. Thus, a dictionary typically provides limited information, analysis or background for the word defined. While it may offer a definition, it may leave the reader lacking in understanding the meaning, significance or limitations of a term, and how the term relates to a broader field of knowledge.
To address those needs, an encyclopedia article is typically not limited to simple definitions, and is not limited to defining an individual word, but provides a more extensive meaning for a subject or discipline. In addition to defining and listing synonymous terms for the topic, the article is able to treat the topic's more extensive meaning in more depth and convey the most relevant accumulated knowledge on that subject. An encyclopedia article also often includes many maps and illustrations, as well as bibliography and statistics. An encyclopedia is, theoretically, not written in order to convince, although one of its goals is indeed to convince its reader of its own veracity.
Four major elements
Four major elements define an encyclopedia: its subject matter, its scope, its method of organization, and its method of production:
- Encyclopedias can be general, containing articles on topics in every field (the English-language Encyclopædia Britannica and German Brockhaus are well-known examples). General encyclopedias may contain guides on how to do a variety of things, as well as embedded dictionaries and gazetteers. There are also encyclopedias that cover a wide variety of topics from a particular cultural, ethnic, or national perspective, such as the Great Soviet Encyclopedia or Encyclopaedia Judaica.
- Works of encyclopedic scope aim to convey the important accumulated knowledge for their subject domain, such as an encyclopedia of medicine, philosophy or law. Works vary in the breadth of material and the depth of discussion, depending on the target audience.
- Some systematic method of organization is essential to making an encyclopedia usable for reference. There have historically been two main methods of organizing printed encyclopedias: the alphabetical method (consisting of a number of separate articles, organized in alphabetical order) and organization by hierarchical categories. The former method is today the more common, especially for general works. The fluidity of electronic media, however, allows new possibilities for multiple methods of organization of the same content. Further, electronic media offer new capabilities for search, indexing and cross reference. The epigraph from Horace on the title page of the 18th century Encyclopédie suggests the importance of the structure of an encyclopedia: "What grace may be added to commonplace matters by the power of order and connection."
- As modern multimedia and the information age have evolved, new methods have emerged for the collection, verification, summation, and presentation of information of all kinds. Projects such as Everything2, Encarta, h2g2, and Wikipedia are examples of new forms of the encyclopedia as information retrieval becomes simpler. The method of production for an encyclopedia historically has been supported in both for-profit and non-profit contexts. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia mentioned above was entirely state sponsored, while the Britannica was supported as a for-profit institution. By comparison, Wikipedia is supported by volunteers contributing in a non-profit environment under the organization of the Wikimedia Foundation.
Some works entitled "dictionaries" are actually similar to encyclopedias, especially those concerned with a particular field (such as the Dictionary of the Middle Ages, the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, and Black's Law Dictionary). The Macquarie Dictionary, Australia's national dictionary, became an encyclopedic dictionary after its first edition in recognition of the use of proper nouns in common communication, and the words derived from such proper nouns.
Differences between encyclopedias and dictionaries
There are some broad differences between encyclopedias and dictionaries. Most noticeably, encyclopedia articles are longer, fuller and more thorough than entries in most general-purpose dictionaries. There are differences in content as well. Generally speaking, dictionaries provide linguistic information about words themselves, while encyclopedias focus more on the thing for which those words stand. Thus, while dictionary entries are inextricably fixed to the word described, encyclopedia articles can be given a different entry name. As such, dictionary entries are not fully translatable into other languages, but encyclopedia articles can be.
In practice, however, the distinction is not concrete, as there is no clear-cut difference between factual, "encyclopedic" information and linguistic information such as appears in dictionaries. Thus encyclopedias may contain material that is also found in dictionaries, and vice versa. In particular, dictionary entries often contain factual information about the thing named by the word.
As of the early 2020s, the largest encyclopedias are the Chinese Baike.com (18 million articles) and Baidu Baike (16 million), followed by Wikipedias for English (6 million), German (+2 million) and French (+2 million), all of which are wholly online.[failed verification] More than a dozen other Wikipedias have 1 million articles or more, of variable quality and length.[failed verification] Measuring an encyclopedia's size by its articles is an ambiguous method since the online Chinese encyclopedias cited above allow multiple articles on the same topic, while Wikipedias accept only one single common article per topic but allow automated creation of nearly empty articles.
Encyclopedias have progressed from the beginning of history in written form, through medieval and modern times in print, and most recently, displayed on computer and distributed via computer networks, including the Internet.
The earliest encyclopedic work to have survived to modern times is the Naturalis Historia of Pliny the Elder, a Roman statesman living in the 1st century AD. He compiled a work of 37 chapters covering natural history, architecture, medicine, geography, geology, and all aspects of the world around him. This work became very popular in Antiquity, was one of the first classical manuscripts to be printed in 1470, and has remained popular ever since as a source of information on the Roman world, and especially Roman art, Roman technology and Roman engineering.
The first Christian encyclopedia was the Institutiones divinarum et saecularium litterarum of Cassiodorus (543-560), which were divided in two parts: the first one dealt with Christian Divinity; the second one described the seven liberal arts.
The encyclopedia of Suda, a massive 10th-century Byzantine encyclopedia, had 30 000 entries, many drawing from ancient sources that have since been lost, and often derived from medieval Christian compilers. The text was arranged alphabetically with some slight deviations from common vowel order and place in the Greek alphabet.
From India, the Siribhoovalaya (Kannada: ಸಿರಿಭೂವಲಯ), dated between 800 A.D to 15th century, is a work of kannada literature written by Kumudendu Muni, a Jain monk. It is unique because rather than employing alphabets, it is composed entirely in Kannada numerals. Many philosophies which existed in the Jain classics are eloquently and skillfully interpreted in the work. The enormous encyclopedic work in China of the Four Great Books of Song, compiled by the 11th century during the early Song dynasty (960–1279), was a massive literary undertaking for the time. The last encyclopedia of the four, the Prime Tortoise of the Record Bureau, amounted to 9.4 million Chinese characters in 1000 written volumes.
There were many great encyclopedists throughout Chinese history, including the scientist and statesman Shen Kuo (1031–1095) with his Dream Pool Essays of 1088, the statesman, inventor, and agronomist Wang Zhen (active 1290–1333) with his Nong Shu of 1313, and the written Tiangong Kaiwu of Song Yingxing (1587–1666), the latter of whom was termed the "Diderot of China" by British historian Joseph Needham.
Before the advent of the printing press, encyclopedic works were all hand copied and thus rarely available, beyond wealthy patrons or monastic men of learning: they were expensive, and usually written for those extending knowledge rather than those using it. During the Renaissance, the creation of printing allowed a wider diffusion of encyclopedias and every scholar could have his or her own copy. The De expetendis et fugiendis rebus by Giorgio Valla was posthumously printed in 1501 by Aldo Manuzio in Venice. This work followed the traditional scheme of liberal arts. However, Valla added the translation of ancient Greek works on mathematics (firstly by Archimedes), newly discovered and translated. The Margarita Philosophica by Gregor Reisch, printed in 1503, was a complete encyclopedia explaining the seven liberal arts.
Financial, commercial, legal, and intellectual factors changed the size of encyclopedias. Middle classes had more time to read and encyclopedias helped them to learn more. Publishers wanted to increase their output so some countries like Germany started selling books missing alphabetical sections, to publish faster. Also, publishers could not afford all the resources by themselves, so multiple publishers would come together with their resources to create better encyclopedias. Later, rivalry grew, causing copyright to occur due to weak underdeveloped laws. John Harris is often credited with introducing the now-familiar alphabetic format in 1704 with his English Lexicon Technicum: Or, A Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences: Explaining not only the Terms of Art, but the Arts Themselves – to give its full title. Organized alphabetically, its content does indeed contain explanation not merely of the terms used in the arts and sciences, but of the arts and sciences themselves. Sir Isaac Newton contributed his only published work on chemistry to the second volume of 1710.
The Encyclopædia Britannica, had a modest beginning in Scotland: the first edition, issued between 1768 and 1771, had just three hastily completed volumes – A–B, C–L, and M–Z – with a total of 2,391 pages. By 1797, when the third edition was completed, it had been expanded to 18 volumes addressing a full range of topics, with articles contributed by a range of authorities on their subjects.
The German-language Conversations-Lexikon was published at Leipzig from 1796 to 1808, in 6 volumes. Paralleling other 18th century encyclopedias, its scope was expanded beyond that of earlier publications, in an effort at comprehensiveness. It was, however, intended not for scholarly use but to provide results of research and discovery in a simple and popular form without extensive detail. This format, a contrast to the Encyclopædia Britannica, was widely imitated by later 19th century encyclopedias in Britain, the United States, France, Spain, Italy and other countries. Of the influential late-18th century and early-19th century encyclopedias, the Conversations-Lexikon is perhaps most similar in form to today's encyclopedias.
The Encyclopædia Britannica appeared in various editions throughout the nineteenth century, and the growth of popular education and the Mechanics' Institutes, spearheaded by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge led to the production of the Penny Cyclopaedia, as its title suggests issued in weekly numbers at a penny each like a newspaper.
In the early 20th century, the Encyclopædia Britannica reached its eleventh edition, and inexpensive encyclopedias such as Harmsworth's Universal Encyclopaedia and Everyman's Encyclopaedia were common.
In the United States, the 1950s and 1960s saw the introduction of several large popular encyclopedias, often sold on installment plans. The best known of these were World Book and Funk and Wagnalls. As many as 90% were sold door to door. Jack Lynch says in his book You Could Look It Up that encyclopedia salespeople were so common that they became the butt of jokes. He describes their sales pitch saying, "They were selling not books but a lifestyle, a future, a promise of social mobility." A 1961 World Book ad said, "You are holding your family’s future in your hands right now," while showing a feminine hand holding an order form.
By the late 20th century, encyclopedias were being published on CD-ROMs for use with personal computers. Microsoft's Encarta, launched in 1993, was a landmark example as it had no printed equivalent. Articles were supplemented with video and audio files as well as numerous high-quality images. After sixteen years, Microsoft discontinued the Encarta line of products in 2009.
The concept of a free encyclopedia began with the Interpedia proposal on Usenet in 1993, which outlined an Internet-based online encyclopedia to which anyone could submit content and that would be freely accessible. Early projects in this vein included Everything2 and Open Site. In 1999, Richard Stallman proposed the GNUPedia, an online encyclopedia which, similar to the GNU operating system, would be a "generic" resource. The concept was very similar to Interpedia, but more in line with Stallman's GNU philosophy.
It was not until Nupedia and later Wikipedia that a stable free encyclopedia project was able to be established on the Internet.
The English Wikipedia, which was started in 2001, became the world's largest encyclopedia in 2004 at the 300,000 article stage. By late 2005, Wikipedia had produced over two million articles in more than 80 languages with content licensed under the copyleft GNU Free Documentation License. As of August 2009, Wikipedia had over 3 million articles in English and well over 10 million combined in over 250 languages. Wikipedia currently has 6,399,117 articles in English.
- "Encyclopedia". Archived from the original on August 3, 2007. Glossary of Library Terms. Riverside City College, Digital Library/Learning Resource Center. Retrieved on: November 17, 2007.
- Hartmann, R. R. K.; James, Gregory (1998). Dictionary of Lexicography. Routledge. p. 48. ISBN 978-0-415-14143-7. Retrieved July 27, 2010.
- Béjoint, Henri (2000). Modern Lexicography, pp. 30–31. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-829951-6
- "Encyclopaedia". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved July 27, 2010.
An English lexicographer, H.W. Fowler, wrote in the preface to the first edition (1911) of The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English language that a dictionary is concerned with the uses of words and phrases and with giving information about the things for which they stand only so far as current use of the words depends upon knowledge of those things. The emphasis in an encyclopedia is much more on the nature of the things for which the words and phrases stand.
- Hartmann, R. R. K.; James, Gregory (1998). Dictionary of Lexicography. Routledge. p. 49. ISBN 978-0-415-14143-7. Retrieved July 27, 2010.
In contrast with linguistic information, encyclopedia material is more concerned with the description of objective realities than the words or phrases that refer to them. In practice, however, there is no hard and fast boundary between factual and lexical knowledge.
- Cowie, Anthony Paul (2009). The Oxford History of English Lexicography, Volume I. Oxford University Press. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-415-14143-7. Retrieved August 17, 2010.
An 'encyclopedia' (encyclopaedia) usually gives more information than a dictionary; it explains not only the words but also the things and concepts referred to by the words.
- Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert Encyclopédie. University of Michigan Library:Scholarly Publishing Office and DLXS. Retrieved on: November 17, 2007
- Ἐγκύκλιος παιδεία, Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, 1.10.1, at Perseus Project
- ἐγκύκλιος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek–English Lexicon, at Perseus Project
- παιδεία, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek–English Lexicon, at Perseus Project
- According to some accounts, such as the American Heritage Dictionary Archived August 19, 2017, at the Wayback Machine, copyists of Latin manuscripts took this phrase to be a single Greek word, ἐγκυκλοπαιδεία enkyklopaedia.
- Franklin-Brown, Mary (2012). Reading the world: encyclopedic writing in the scholastic age. Chicago London: The University of Chicago Press. p. 8. ISBN 9780226260709.
- König, Jason (2013). Encyclopaedism from antiquity to the Renaissance. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-1-107-03823-3.
- Hartmann, R. R. K.; James, Gregory (1998). Dictionary of Lexicography. Routledge. pp. 48–49. ISBN 978-0-415-14143-7. Retrieved July 27, 2010.
Usually these two aspects overlap – encyclopedic information being difficult to distinguish from linguistic information – and dictionaries attempt to capture both in the explanation of a meaning ...
- Béjoint, Henri (2000). Modern Lexicography. Oxford University Press. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-19-829951-6.
The two types, as we have seen, are not easily differentiated; encyclopedias contain information that is also to be found in dictionaries, and vice versa.
- "Wikipedia". www.wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 13, 2020.
- Needham, Volume 5, Part 7, 102.
- Onion, Rebecca (June 3, 2016). "How Two Artists Turn Old Encyclopedias Into Beautiful, Melancholy Art". Slate. Retrieved September 23, 2019.
- Important Notice: MSN Encarta to be Discontinued. MSN Encarta. Archived from the original on October 31, 2009.
- "Encyclopedia Service Are About To Become A Huge Market". www.stillwatercurrent.com. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
- "Wikipedia Passes 300,000 Articles making it the worlds largest encyclopedia", Linux Reviews, 2004 Julich y 7.
- "encyclopedia | Search Online Etymology Dictionary". www.etymonline.com. Retrieved May 13, 2020.
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- Béjoint, Henri (2000). Modern Lexicography. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-829951-6.
- C. Codoner, S. Louis, M. Paulmier-Foucart, D. Hüe, M. Salvat, A. Llinares, L'Encyclopédisme. Actes du Colloque de Caen, A. Becq (dir.), Paris, 1991.
- Bergenholtz, H.; Nielsen, S.; Tarp, S., eds. (2009). Lexicography at a Crossroads: Dictionaries and Encyclopedias Today, Lexicographical Tools Tomorrow. Peter Lang. ISBN 978-3-03911-799-4.
- Blom, Phillip (2004). Enlightening the World: Encyclopédie, the Book that Changed the Course of History. New York; Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-4039-6895-1. OCLC 57669780.
- Collison, Robert Lewis (1966). Encyclopaedias: Their History Throughout the Ages (2nd ed.). New York, London: Hafner. OCLC 220101699.
- Cowie, Anthony Paul (2009). The Oxford History of English Lexicography, Volume I. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-415-14143-7. Retrieved August 17, 2010.
- Darnton, Robert (1979). The business of enlightenment: a publishing history of the Encyclopédie, 1775–1800. Cambridge: Belknap Press. ISBN 978-0-674-08785-9.
- Hartmann, R. R. K.; James, Gregory (1998). Dictionary of Lexicography. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-14143-7. Retrieved July 27, 2010.
- Kafker, Frank A., ed. (1981). Notable encyclopedias of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: nine predecessors of the Encyclopédie. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation. ISBN 978-0-7294-0256-9. OCLC 10645788.
- Kafker, Frank A., ed. (1994). Notable encyclopedias of the late eighteenth century: eleven successors of the Encyclopédie. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation. ISBN 978-0-7294-0467-9. OCLC 30787125.
- Needham, Joseph (1986). "Part 7, Military Technology; the Gunpowder Epic". Science and Civilization in China. 5 – Chemistry and Chemical Technology. Taipei: Caves Books Ltd. ISBN 978-0-521-30358-3. OCLC 59245877.
- Rosenzweig, Roy (June 2006). "Can History Be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past". Journal of American History. 93 (1): 117–46. doi:10.2307/4486062. ISSN 1945-2314. JSTOR 4486062. Archived from the original on April 25, 2010.
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|Wikisource has original works on the topic: Encyclopedias|
- Encyclopaedia and Hypertext
- Internet Accuracy Project – Biographical errors in encyclopedias and almanacs
- Encyclopedia – Diderot's article on the Encyclopedia from the original Encyclopédie.
- De expetendis et fugiendis rebus – First Renaissance encyclopedia
- Errors and inconsistencies in several printed reference books and encyclopedias Archived July 18, 2001, at the Wayback Machine
- Digital encyclopedias put the world at your fingertips – CNET article
- Encyclopedias online University of Wisconsin – Stout listing by category
- Chambers' Cyclopaedia, 1728, with the 1753 supplement
- Encyclopædia Americana, 1851, Francis Lieber ed. (Boston: Mussey & Co.) at the University of Michigan Making of America site
- Encyclopædia Britannica, articles and illustrations from 9th ed., 1875–89, and 10th ed., 1902–03.
- Texts on Wikisource:
- "Cyclopædia". Collier's New Encyclopedia. 1921.
- "Encyclopædia". Encyclopedia Americana. 1920.
- "Encyclopædia". The New Student's Reference Work. 1914.
- "Encyclopaedia". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.
- "Encyclopædia". The Nuttall Encyclopædia. 1907.
- "Encyclopædia". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.
- "Cyclopædia". The American Cyclopædia. 1879.