Encyclopedia's have proven to be a very important
vehicle to record the common knowledge of the human race. Through
the centuries many attemps were made and only a few succeeded.
An early precursor of an encyclopedia was created
by Gaius Plinius Secundus (ca. 23-79), the Historia Naturalis
was completed around 79. It was a 37 volumes work containing the
contemprary sciences; it is the first western attempt to create
a systematic encyclopedia.
The Naturalis Historia consists of 37 books with 2,493 chapters:
- Volume 1: Contents and references
- Volume 2: Cosmology
- Volume 3-6: Geography and Ethnology
- Volume 7: Anthropology
- Volumes 8-11: Zoology
- Volumes 12-19: Botanics
- Volumes 20-32: Medicins from plants and animals
- Volumes 33-37: Mineralogy and processing of metals and stones,
especialy in arts
May be one of the earliest Asian attempts was the Yongle
The Yongle Dadian, also called encyclopedia Maxima,
was compiled between A.D. 1403 - 1408 in the Ming Dynasty period
(1368-1644), containing 22,877 volumes in 11,095 books. It was 12
times that of the famous encyclopedia compiled by the French author
Denis Diderot (1713-1784) in the 18th century.
Much of the Yongle Dadian was destroyed during foreign invasions
or internal fights. It is estimated only about 400 books remain
in the world, kept in eight countries and regions.
Owing to its large size, the Yongle Dadian was never printed, though
2 other copies were made, and only manuscripts remained. All other
was destroyed by fire during uprisings and wars.
"It is the first time in the world to have
photocopies of the encyclopedia in its original size, color and
style," Guo Youling, director with Beijing Library Press, which
is responsible for the photocopying. "We are making every effort
to make it resemble the originals so as to give readers an idea
of the Yongle Dadian."
The parent of our modern encyclopedias was Chambers' Cyclopedia,
England 1728. Chambers introduced the system of cross-referencing;
And he developed the idea that encyclopedias should go beyond conventional
learning. Chambers also introduced (current 18th century) technology
to become part of an encyclopedia as well.
The other offspring was the Encyclopedia Britannica: a Dictionary
of the Arts and Sciences. It's first issue was a three-volume set
in 1768 by three Scotsmen, Andrew Bell, Colin McFarguhar, and William
Smellie. Their "Arts and Sciences" subtitle, by the way,
was the same one Chambers had used.
Encyclopedia Britannica’s first electronic version was published
One of the first full blown electronic encyclopedia's is Microsoft's
Encarta released in 1993 on CD-ROM without an accompanying multi
volume book set. In 1995 Encarta published the first hybrid online-CD-ROM
In the early 21st century a new type of online encyclopedia, known
as Wikipedia, enabled readers to create and edit encyclopedia articles.
A wiki is a type of server software that enables users to create
or alter content on a Web page. Wikipedia was closely associated
with the open source software movement and rapidly expanded to include
hundreds of thousands of articles, many on popular culture topics,
in a number of languages. The philosophy behind Wikipedia was that
a community of volunteers could pool their knowledge and crosscheck
their work to create a free encyclopedia.