Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Edition

The 11th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, coincidentally published in 1911, is known (by librarians and historians mostly) for the depth of its articles and the scholarly authority of the authors of these articles. I just ran across an online version of this 44 million word reference source and after a little more research have found more than one website hosting it. Needless to say, it is of no value for most 20th century topics, but for students and academics in most fields it is a historiography of great value.

Wikipedia offers these characterizations by noted authorities. I can't think of better advertisements for trying it than these
In 1917, under his pseudonym of S. S. Van Dine, the US art critic and author Willard Huntington Wright published Misinforming a Nation, a 200+ page criticism of inaccuracies and biases found in the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition. Wright claimed that Britannica was "characterized by misstatement, inexcusable omissions, rabid and patriotic prejudices, personal animosities, blatant errors of fact, scholastic ignorance, gross neglect of non-British culture, an astounding egotism, and an undisguised contempt for American progress.

"Sir Kenneth Clark, in Another Part of the Wood (1974), wrote of the eleventh edition, "One leaps from one subject to another, fascinated as much by the play of mind and the idiosyncrasies of their authors as by the facts and dates. It must be the last encyclopaedia in the tradition of Diderot which assumes that information can be made memorable only when it is slightly coloured by prejudice. When T. S. Eliot wrote 'Soul curled up on the window seat reading the Encyclopædia Britannica,' he was certainly thinking of the eleventh edition." (Clark refers to Eliot's 1929 poem Animula.)"

Check it out at:

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