Steve Hochstadt: The End of Encyclopedias?
The radical 18th-century thinkers who proposed democracy instead of aristocracy, legislatures instead of kings, and freedom instead of tyranny, also made a revolutionary proposal about knowledge. They imagined an encyclopedia that would make all significant knowledge available to everyone.
Denis Diderot thought his pioneering Encyclopédie, published just before the French Revolution, would make people “more virtuous and more happy.”
Encyclopedias were too expensive for anyone but the rich, until affordable popular encyclopedias came onto the market in post-World War II America. What a boon for the homework assignments of my generation of baby boomers, and everyone since.
A huge team of experts created summaries on thousands of subjects in every field of knowlege. For those with a serious interest in some topic, the encyclopedia might just be a begininng, but it was a reliable first step. The whole intention behind the encyclopedia was to provide complete, verifiable and neutral information.
Those shelves of identically bound volumes are antiquated now, made superfluous by one of the characteristic inventions of the 21st century, the online encyclopedia. Instead of going home to consult the expensive volumes of “World Book,” students now consult Wikipedia for free on the Internet.
Wikipedia embodies the democracy of authorship and universal accessibility, has 10 times more entries, and is always up-to-date.
But just as this democratic dream seems to have come true, the whole idea of encyclopedias is being challenged. Andrew Schafly, the son of Phyllis Schafly, has created “Conservapedia,” an alternative encyclopedia for conservatives. Conservapedia’s home page appears to set traditional standards for inclusion: Its first “commandment” is “everything you post must be true and verifiable.” Is Conservapedia “a clean and concise resource for those seeking the truth,” as it claims? A glance inside Conservapedia shows something very different....
comments powered by Disqus
Penny Hall - 9/8/2010
I read with pleasure your three most recent Journal-Courier columns. Thank you for presenting, with simple eloquence, how intolerance breeds fear and hatred, and also the importance of continuing talk re: racism. We need voices of reason such as yours more than ever. If only those not already in "the choir" would listen and think.........Penny Hall
- Rare silent Native American movie of 1920s attracting a lot of interest
- It happened in Idaho and was the largest massacre of Indians in US history, but where exactly did it take place?
- Junípero Serra’s Missions Destroyed Entire Native Cultures. And Now He’s Going to Be a Saint.
- Isis destruction of Palmyra's Temple of Bel revealed in satellite images
- McKinley's lost his mountain. Should we still remember his presidency?
- Japanese historian upends the familiar narrative of WW 2 by taking a bottom up approach, focusing on fascism from the grassroots
- Holocaust-denying historian David Irving organises 'disgusting' £2,000-a-head holiday tours of former concentration camps and Hitler's HQ so people can 'make up their own mind about the truth'
- 72 history professors sign letter urging removal of Jefferson Davis statue from Kentucky Capitol
- 10 Years After Katrina, the Enduring Value of the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank
- Historian author Antony Beevor says his new World War 2 book may anger Americans