The encylopaedic assistance for social transformation

 

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Ancient times

One of the earliest encyclopedic works 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. He stated in the preface that he had compiled 20,000 facts from 2000 works by over 200 authors, and added many others from his own experience. The work was published around AD 77-79, although he probably never finished proofing the work before his death in the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79.

Middle Ages

Saint Isidore of Seville, one of the greatest scholars of the early Middle Ages, is widely recognized as being the author of the first known encyclopedia of the Middle Ages, the Etymologiae or Origines (around 630), in which he compiled a sizable portion of the learning available at his time, both ancient and modern. The encyclopedia has 448 chapters in 20 volumes, and is valuable because of the quotes and fragments of texts by other authors that would have been lost had they not been collected by Saint Isidore.

The most popular encyclopedia of the Carolingian Age was the De universo or De rerum naturis by Rabanus Maurus, written about 830, which was based on Etymologiae.

The early Muslim compilations of knowledge in the Middle Ages included many comprehensive works. Around year 960, the Brethren of Purity of Basra were engaged in their Encyclopedia of the Brethren of Purity. Notable works include Abu Bakr al-Razi's encyclopedia of science, the Mutazilite Al-Kindi's prolific output of 270 books, and Ibn Sina's medical encyclopedia, which was a standard reference work for centuries. Also notable are works of universal history (or sociology) from Asharites, al-Tabri, al-Masudi, Tabari's History of the Prophets and Kings, Ibn Rustah, al-Athir, and Ibn Khaldun, whose Muqadimmah contains cautions regarding trust in written records that remain wholly applicable today.

The enormous encyclopedic work in China of the Four Great Books of Song, compiled by the 11th century AD 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 1,000 written volumes.

Renaissance

These 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 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.

The term encyclopaedia was coined by 16th century humanists who misread copies of their texts of Pliny and Quintilian, and combined the two Greek words "enkyklios paideia" into one word, έγκυκλοπαιδεία. The phrase enkyklios paideia (γκύκλιος παιδεία) was used by Plutarch and the Latin word Encyclopedia came from him.

The first work titled in this way was the Encyclopedia orbisque doctrinarum, hoc est omnium artium, scientiarum, ipsius philosophiae index ac divisio written by Johannes Aventinus in 1517.

The English physician and philosopher, Sir Thomas Browne used the word 'encyclopaedia' in 1646 in the preface to the reader to define his Pseudodoxia Epidemica, a major work of the 17th scientific revolution. Browne structured his encyclopaedia upon the time-honoured schemata of the Renaissance, the so-called 'scale of creation' which ascends through the mineral, vegetable, animal, human, planetary and cosmological worlds. Pseudodoxia Epidemica was a European best-seller, translated into French, Dutch and German as well as Latin it went through no less than five editions, each revised and augmented, the last edition appearing in 1672.

18th–19th centuries

The beginnings of the modern idea of the general-purpose, widely distributed printed encyclopedia precede the 18th century encyclopedists. However, Chambers' Cyclopaedia, or Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (1728), and the Encyclopédie of Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert (1751 onwards), as well as Encyclopædia Britannica and the Conversations-Lexikon, were the first to realize the form we would recognize today, with a comprehensive scope of topics, discussed in depth and organized in an accessible, systematic method. Chambers, in 1728, followed the earlier lead of John Harris's Lexicon Technicum of 1704 and later editions (see also below); this work was by its title and content "A Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences: Explaining not only the Terms of Art, but the Arts Themselves".

During the 19th and early 20th century, many smaller or less developed languages saw their first encyclopedias, using French, German, and English role models. While encyclopedias in larger languages, having large markets that could support a large editorial staff, churned out new 20-volume works in a few years and new editions with brief intervals, such publication plans often spanned a decade or more in smaller languages.

20th century

Popular and affordable encyclopedias such as Harmsworth's Universal Encyclopaedia and the Children's Encyclopaedia appeared in the early 1920s.

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.

The second half of the 20th century also saw the proliferation of specialized encyclopedias that compiled topics in specific fields. This trend has continued. Encyclopedias of at least one volume in size now exist for most if not all academic disciplines, including such narrow topics such as bioethics and African American history.

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 both video and audio files as well as numerous high-quality images. After sixteen years, Microsoft discontinued the Encarta line of products in 2009.

21st century

On-line encyclopedias offer the additional advantage of being dynamic: new information can be presented almost immediately, rather than waiting for the next release of a static format, as with a disk- or paper-based publication. The 21st century has seen the dominance of wikis as popular encyclopedias, including Wikipedia among many others.

Etymology

The word "encyclopaedia" comes from mistaken Koine Greek "γκύκλιος παιδεία", transliterated enkyklios paideia; enkyklios (γκύκλιος), meaning "circular, recurrent, required regularly, general" and paideia (παιδεία), meaning "education". Together, the phrase literally translates as "common knowledge" or "general knowledge". Copyists of Latin manuscripts took this phrase to be a single Greek word, enkyklopaidia, with the same meaning, and this spurious Greek word became the New Latin word "encyclopaedia", which in turn came into English. Though the notion of a compendium of knowledge dates back thousands of years, the term was first used in the title of a book in 1517 by Johannes Aventinus: Encyclopedia orbisque doctrinarum, hoc est omnium artium, scientiarum, ipsius philosophiae index ac divisio, and in 1541 by Joachimus Fortius Ringelbergius, Lucubrationes vel potius absolutissima kyklopaideia (Basel, 1541). The word encyclopaedia was first used as a noun in the title of his book by the Croatian encyclopedist Pavao Skalić in his Encyclopaedia seu orbis disciplinarum tam sacrarum quam prophanarum epistemon (Encyclopaedia, or Knowledge of the World of Disciplines, Basel, 1559). One of the oldest vernacular uses was by François Rabelais in his Pantagruel in 1532.

Several encyclopedias have names that include the suffix -p(a)edia, e.g., Banglapedia (on matters relevant for Bengal).

In British usage, the spellings encyclopedia and encyclopaedia are both current. In American usage, only the former is commonly used. The spelling encyclopædia—with the æ ligature—was frequently used in the 19th century and is increasingly rare, although it is retained in product titles such as Encyclopædia Britannica and others. The Oxford English Dictionary (1989) records encyclopædia and encyclopaedia as equal alternatives (in that order), and notes the æ would be obsolete except that it is preserved in works that have Latin titles. Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1997–2002) features encyclopedia as the main headword and encyclopaedia as a minor variant. In addition, cyclopedia and cyclopaedia are now rarely used shortened forms of the word originating in the 17th  century.

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