The Proper Study of Mankind

Alexander Pope

Although a print publisher throughout its long life, Encyclopaedia Britannica had been keeping abreast of these developments closely. In Britannica had just put the finishing touches on its massive rewriting of its Encyclopaedia Britannica encyclopedia by adding when the first CD- ROM (for Compact Disc-Read Only Memory) storage discs first came out, Britannica. In 1985, Britannica had just put the finishing touches on its multi-decade, massive rewriting of its entire 1928 14th Edition. The 15th Edition had originally been published in 1974 in a 30- volume set. The icing on the cake was the addition in 1985 of two additional index volumes.

Encyclopaedia Britannica's 15th Edition 1994

Encyclopaedia Britannica’s 15th Edition 1994

The redesign of the Encyclopaedia Britannica in the several decades before the Compton’s launch was a critical precursor to EB’s invention. Then, in 1988 and 1989, the Compton’s Multimedia Encyclopedia development project gave birth to the Britannica multimedia search system patent. Finally, with the first patent issuing in 2002, and continuation patent in subsequent years, the stage was set for Britannica to exploit its achievement more fully. English poet Alexander Pope began the second epistle of his 1732 work An Essay on Man with the couplet,

“Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; The proper study of Mankind is Man.”

His reference to our genome-embedded drive to understand ourselves and catalog our knowledge is symbolized and given tangible shape by the encyclopedic form. The long, continuous history of the encyclopedia in our civilization is evidence that our collective need for self-examination is hard- wired into our brains. Thus, the presence of a reference publisher at the center of a critical human/machine interface development in the 1980s was not entirely an accident. It stemmed in part from the very nature of encyclopedias in modern society.

The word “encyclopedia” comes from the Greek words enkyklios, meaning general, and paideia, meaning education The effort to create a system of knowledge or circle of learning in the form of an “encyclopedia” spanning humankind’s knowledge has been with us for over 2,000 years, although it hasn’t always been called this. Speusippus, who died in 339 B.C., recorded his uncle Plato’s thinking on natural history, mathematics and philosophy. Speusippus also apparently attempted to record detailed descriptions of different species of plants and animals.  Speusippus

However, it was Denis Diderot’s Encyclopedie ou Dictionnarie raisonne des Sciences, des Arts, a et des Metiers, published in 1751 in Paris, that first popularized the use of the term encyclopedia to describe works containing a broad compendium of knowledge. Shortly thereafter, in 1768, the first edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, the oldest and most comprehensive English- language encyclopedia, was published in Edinburgh, Scotland.