Encyclopædia Britannica

Encyclopædia Britannica
Oldest and largest English-language general encyclopaedia.

Its three-volume first edition was published in 1768–71 in Edinburgh, Scot. In subsequent editions it grew in size and reputation. The most famous editions include the ninth (1875–89), known as "the scholar's encyclopaedia," and the 11th (1910–11), which, with contributions from more than 1,500 experts of world reputation, was also the first to divide the traditionally lengthy treatises into more particularized articles. The current edition, the 15th (1974, with a major revision in 1985), embodied a new structure, dividing the major articles from the shorter ones. Encyclopædia Britannica now also appears in CD-ROM and on-line versions. A series of ownership changes led to its purchase by American publishers in 1901; since the 1940s it has been published in Chicago.

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▪ English language reference work
 the oldest English-language general encyclopaedia. The Encyclopædia Britannica has been published since 1768, when its first edition began to appear in Edinburgh, Scotland.

First edition
      The Encyclopædia Britannica; or, A Dictionary of Arts and Sciences was conceived by two printers, Andrew Bell (Bell, Andrew) and Colin Macfarquhar (Macfarquhar, Colin), and edited chiefly by the printer and antiquary William Smellie (Smellie, William). It was printed and published in Edinburgh. Initial pieces of the work began to appear in December 1768, and the whole work was completed in 1771 in three volumes containing 2,391 pages, four folded leaves of unnumbered tables, and 160 copperplates engraved by Bell. The work's merit and novelty consisted, on the one hand, in its consolidation of important subjects into lengthy, comprehensive treatises and, on the other, in facilitating reference by the inclusion of many shorter, dictionary-type articles on technical terms and other subjects.

Second edition
      The second edition was a much more ambitious work in both length and scope, its 10 volumes totaling 8,595 pages and appearing in parts from 1777 to 1784. There were more treatises than had appeared in the first edition and many new articles, as well as previous articles much expanded. The scope of the second edition was enlarged beyond that of a “dictionary of arts and sciences” by the inclusion of biographical articles and the expansion of geographic articles to include history. The editor was James Tytler (Tytler, James) (c. 1747–1804).

Third edition
      The third edition was still longer, appearing in parts forming 18 volumes of 14,579 pages (1788–97). It was edited by Macfarquhar until his death in 1793, after which it was completed by George Gleig (1753–1840), a Scottish Episcopalian clergyman. When the edition was completed, Bell bought out the share of ownership of Macfarquhar's heirs. A two-volume supplement, edited by Gleig and printed for Thomas Bonar, Bell's son-in-law, appeared in 1801. The fresh, energetic prose of the third edition and supplement proved to be engaging as well as informative and greatly helped to establish Britannica's lasting reputation.

Fourth edition
      The fourth edition appeared from 1801 to 1809 and, when completed, was bound in 20 volumes totaling 16,033 pages and dated 1810. Essentially it was a revised reprint of the third edition, adding two volumes to include new and enlarged treatises, extra pages to bring history articles up to date, and more biographical articles. The editor, James Millar (1762–1827), an Edinburgh physician and natural scientist, took pains to repair the omissions and other deficiencies caused in the third edition by the death of Macfarquhar in midcareer.

Fifth and sixth editions and supplement to the fourth, fifth, and sixth editions
      The fifth edition (edited successively by Bonar and Millar) was a corrected reprint of the fourth, and the sixth (edited by Charles Maclaren (Maclaren, Charles)) was a reprint of the fifth with some articles brought up to date. Both were of small importance compared with the supplement to the fourth, fifth, and sixth editions, which was being concurrently prepared and printed. This six-volume supplement appeared in half-volumes from 1815 to 1824, edited by Macvey Napier (Napier, MacVey) (1776–1847), who later became editor of the Edinburgh Review. The principal innovation of the supplement was that, instead of the editor merely compiling digests of the best available independent publications and using these as the treatises, almost all the articles were original signed contributions. Many of them were written by the most distinguished British scholars of the day, as well as some French scholars. Meanwhile, Archibald Constable (Constable, Archibald), an enterprising Edinburgh publisher, had bought the copyright of Britannica from Bell's and Bonar's heirs.

Seventh edition
      Constable's firm went bankrupt in 1826, and Constable himself died the following year. The Encyclopædia Britannica was then bought by Adam Black, another Edinburgh publisher, for whom Napier edited the seventh edition. Its 21 volumes, totaling 17,101 pages and 506 plates, appeared in parts from 1830 to 1842. The seventh edition was a revision of previous editions, incorporating the supplement and a number of newly commissioned articles. An extra volume provided the useful innovation of a general index, which became a standard feature of further editions.

Eighth edition
      The eighth edition, in 21 volumes with an extra index volume, contained a total of 17,957 pages and 402 plates and appeared from 1852 to 1860. Napier had died, and the new editor was T.S. Traill (Traill, Thomas Stewart) (1781–1862), professor of medical jurisprudence at the University of Edinburgh. Although retaining articles from older editions, the eighth edition was very thoroughly revised.

Ninth edition
      The 24 volumes and index volume of the ninth edition—one of the greatest—appeared one by one between 1875 and 1889. Its editor was T.S. Baynes (Baynes, Thomas Spencer), a professor of logic, metaphysics, and English literature at St. Andrews and a Shakespearean scholar. He planned the edition and continued work on it until his death in 1887, working from 1881 with William Robertson Smith (Smith, William Robertson), a Semitic scholar, as joint editor. The ninth edition, known as the “scholars' encyclopaedia,” was controversial in its progressive and knowledgeable stance on the scientific and religious debates of its day. The work's list of about 1,100 contributors includes more than 70 American scholars and about 60 scholars from the countries of continental Europe. Ownership of the Encyclopædia Britannica passed permanently to the United States when the American publisher Horace E. Hooper (Hooper, Horace Everett), along with another publisher, Walter M. Jackson, purchased the Britannica outright from Adam and Charles Black in 1901.

10th edition
      The 10th edition (1902–03) was published under the sponsorship of The Times of London. It added 11 supplementary volumes to those of the ninth, updating much of the material, especially in history. The editors of the 10th edition were Sir Donald Mackenzie Wallace, Hugh Chisholm (Chisholm, Hugh), Arthur T. Hadley, and Franklin H. Hooper (Hooper, Franklin Henry), the brother of Horace Hooper.

11th edition
      The famed 11th edition was issued in 29 volumes by the Cambridge University Press in 1910–11 after editorial disputes and a lawsuit between Jackson and Horace Hooper had prompted The Times to cancel its contract in 1909. As with the 10th edition, the 11th saw Franklin Hooper in charge of the New York editorial office and Hugh Chisholm of the London office, where the greater part of the work was done. The 11th edition marked a departure from previous editions in its splitting up of the traditional lengthy, comprehensive treatises into somewhat more particularized articles. As a result the 11th edition had 40,000 articles—more than double the 9th edition's 17,000—although its total amount of text was not much greater. The 11th edition took over and revised many articles from the 9th and 10th editions. In addition there were many new entries, as well as new sections to earlier entries which covered history in greater detail. The rich, leisurely prose of the 11th edition marked the pinnacle of literary style in the Britannica.

      In 1920 Britannica was bought by the Chicago mail-order house of Sears, Roebuck and Company, with Horace Hooper serving as its publisher until his death in 1922.

12th and 13th editions
      In 1922 three supplementary volumes prepared under the editorial direction of Chisholm in London and Franklin Hooper in New York City were added to the 29 volumes of the 11th edition, which then became the 12th edition. In 1926 three wholly new supplementary volumes, edited by Hooper in New York City and J.L. Garvin in London, became the 13th edition. During this period (1923–28) ownership shifted from Sears, Roebuck to Hooper's widow and his brother-in-law, William J. Cox.

14th edition
      In 1928 Sears, Roebuck bought back the Britannica, retaining Cox as publisher to put out a revised edition of the now badly out-of-date 11th edition. It was edited by Garvin in London and Franklin Hooper in New York City, and it took approximately three years (1926–29) to complete this work. Space was found for many new articles on scientific and other subjects by cutting down the ample style and learned detail of the 11th edition, from which a great deal of material was carried over in shortened form. More than 3,500 authors of all nationalities contributed articles. The set of 24 volumes, one of which contained an index and a complete atlas, was published in 1929. In 1932 Cox resigned as publisher, and Elkan Harrison Powell, who was vice president of Sears, Roebuck, was chosen to replace him, becoming president of the company. Powell organized the direct-sales methods that gradually raised the sales of the encyclopaedia from their low-water mark during the Great Depression, and he also initiated an important change in editorial method—continuous revision. Thereafter, instead of appearing in completely reset editions at long intervals, the encyclopaedia was revised and reprinted annually. Also begun in 1938 was the volume called Britannica Book of the Year, which covered the significant developments of the year preceding publication.

      Late in 1941 William Benton (Benton, William), a former advertising executive and then a vice president of the University of Chicago (Chicago, University of), obtained from Sears, Roebuck and Company the offer of all rights to the Encyclopædia Britannica as a gift to the university. When the trustees of the university decided not to undertake the financial risks, Benton supplied the working capital and became chairman of the board of directors of Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., and majority stockholder. Robert M. Hutchins (Hutchins, Robert Maynard), then president of the university, was named chairman of the board of editors. Headquarters were established in Chicago.

15th edition
      In 1952, with Britannica's publication of his Great Books of the Western World, there began the long association of philosopher Mortimer J. Adler (Adler, Mortimer J.) with Britannica. (On Hutchins's retirement in 1974, Adler succeeded him as chairman of the board of editors.) Under the stewardship of Adler, Benton, and Charles E. Swanson (president of the company from 1967 to 1985), a vast editorial effort was assembled, resulting in the first publication of Britannica 3, or the 15th edition, in 1974. The new set consisted of 28 volumes in three parts serving different functions: the Micropædia (Ready Reference), Macropædia (Knowledge in Depth), and Propædia (Outline of Knowledge). The 15th edition was given a world point of view by more than 4,000 contributing authors from more than 100 countries. The editorial creation of the work cost $32 million exclusive of printing costs, representing the largest single private investment in publishing history up to that time. Britannica 3's general editor was Warren E. Preece, and the executive editor was Philip W. Goetz.

      Annual revisions of the set continued, and these revisions were supplemented by a major revision of the 15th edition for 1985. For that printing, the Macropædia was greatly restructured, with the amalgamation and regrouping of hundreds of articles; the index function was taken from the Micropædia and placed in a separate two-volume Index; and both the Micropædia and the Propædia were redesigned, reorganized, and revised. The entire set consisted of 32 volumes. The company began a massive revision of the encyclopaedia database in 1999.

      In the early 1990s Britannica was made available for electronic delivery on a number of CD-ROM-based (CD-ROM) products, including the Britannica Electronic Index and the Britannica CD (providing text and a dictionary, along with proprietary retrieval software, on a single disc). A two-disc CD was released in 1995, featuring illustrations and photos; multimedia, including videos, animations, and audio, was added in 1997. A DVD version of the encyclopaedia first appeared in 1999.

      During the early 1990s, under the direction of editor-in-chief Robert McHenry (McHenry, Robert), the company also developed Britannica Online, an extended electronic reference service for delivery over the Internet. The first Internet-based encyclopaedia, it debuted on the World Wide Web in 1994. Users paid a fee to access the information, which was located at http://www.eb.com. Five years later the company launched Britannica.com, a site featuring an Internet search engine, subject channels, current events, and essays, as well as the complete text of the encyclopaedia. Britannica Online continued to exist, used primarily by educational institutions.

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Universalium. 2010.

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