Encyclopedias and beyond, or: what was modern about the modern encyclopedia?
This international conference will take place at the National Library in Oslo in connection with the exhibition "All knowledge for everyone – encyclopedias and beyond", and is a co-operation between the National Library and the research program Kultrans at the University of Oslo.
Thursday 8 November 2012, 10:00 - 17:00
Friday 9 November 2012, 09:15 - 16:00.
Venue: National Library of Norway, Henrik Ibsens gate 110, Oslo
The conference is open to all, but registration is required. There is no conference fee. Please register by sending your name, affiliation and any dietary restrictions to Katrin Wolstein - firstname.lastname@example.org. We do not organise accommodation.
Thursday November 8
10.00-10.15: Welcome and introduction
10.15-11.15: Seth Rudy (Rhodes College, Memphis): The More Things Change: Experiments in Encyclopedism, Past and Present. Abstract.
11.30-12.15: Anne Beate Maurseth (UC Santa Barbara): Tools of knowledge - Knowledge of tools. The French Encyclopedia. Abstract.
12.15-13.00: Øivind Berg (National Library of Norway): The Encyclopedia, the Library, and the completeness of knowledge. Abstract.
13.00-14.30: Lunch and time to visit the exhibition.
14.30-15.30: Ziko van Dijk (Wikimedia Nederland): A Circle of Learning or a Circle of Searching? Encyclopedias from ancient times to Wikipedia.
15.45-16.45: Olof Sundin (Lund University): Producing Contemporary Encyclopaedic Knowledge: Between Continuity and Change. Abstract.
19.00: Conference dinner for invited guests
Friday November 9
09.15-10.15: Ulrike Spree (Hamburg University of Applied Sciences): Mutually dependent - Encyclopedias and their audiences. Abstract.
10.30-11.15: Johan L. Tønnesson (University of Oslo): On paper: This is anti-militarism. Ideological construction and deconstruction in a hypertextual network in Norwegian Workers’ Dictionary (1932). Abstract.
11.15-12.00: Tore Rem (University of Oslo) & Siv Frøydis Berg (National Library of Norway): Knowledge for sale. Abstract.
13.00-14.00: Maria Simonsen (Lund University): Borders of Knowledge. A Comparative Study of Nordisk familjebok and Salmonsens Konversationsleksikon. Abstract.
14.15-15.00: Helge Jordheim (Kultrans, UiO): Encyclopedias and the idea of progress.
15.00-16.00: Round table: Pasts and futures of the encyclopedia. With Ulrike Spree, Seth Rudy, Olof Sundin, Johan L. Tønnesson.
Call for papers
Encyclopedias and beyond, or: what was modern about the modern encyclopedia?
National Library, Oslo, November 8-9, 2012
On March 13 this year The Encyclopedia Britannica announced that no new editions will be put to paper. The 32 volumes of the 2010 installment were the last. Future editions will live exclusively online. The announcement hardly came as a surprise. Nevertheless, the end of this almost 250 year long publication enterprise also puts a symbolic end to the history of a genre: the genre of the modern encyclopedia.
For this conference we want to take this recent event as a vantage point, from which we look both backwards and forwards, at the history of the modern encyclopedia as well as at its possible futures, remediations and replacements. To open up this empirical and theoretical field we want to raise a question, which we believe to be crucial to the range of issues we want to discuss: What is modern about the modern encyclopedia? Or, to put it another way, how does the genre that was established in the second half of the 18th century by Encyclopedia Britannica, Diderot’s and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie and their common point of reference, Chambers' Cyclopedia, and ended in the spring 2014, set itself off from what precedes and succeeds it?
As Ann Blair has shown, the practices of compiling, ordering and distributing knowledge in what she refers to as "reference books", alphabetization, trees of knowledge, system of references, multi-authorship etc., go back at least to the Renaissance. Likewise, the didactical motives underlying the modern encyclopedic projects, as indicated by the word encyclopedia itself, may be traced back to the Greek idea of enkyklios paideia as fundamental for public life. Hence, both aspects are calling the idea of the origin of the genre in the 18th century in question.
Moreover, if we move to the end, many of the same practices, with a notable exception for alphabetization, are so easily transferred into a digital environment that they prompt the question if it isn’t now, in the midst the digital revolution that the genre of the encyclopedia finally comes into its own, realizes its full potential.
Another paradox has to do with the concept of knowledge. The influential encyclopedic enterprises from the 18th century respond to an attack, spearheaded by now canonical thinkers such as Descartes and Bacon, against the compilation and accumulation of old and useless knowledge in huge Latin reference works – knowledge authorized by reference to an entire canon of scholars, but not relevant for the advancement of learning and the improvement of human life.
At the beginning of the 21st century a very similar attack has been directed at the multi-volumed printed encyclopedias by the prophets of the digital revolution: Even if the information contained in these volumes is still correct, has come from experts on their fields and is authorized by experienced editors, it is hopelessly outdated, both in content and in form. Indeed, it would be possible to ask if the struggle not to become outdated isn’t in itself a characteristic of the modern encyclopedia, reflecting a specifically modern, dynamic idea of knowledge.
The uncertain borders as well as the theoretical paradoxes haunting the modern encyclopedia testify to a genre that - in spite of its monolithic presence on the book shelves - has heteregonous origins, multiple temporalities and, hence, many different possible futures. It is this heterogenity and multiplicity we want to explore at this conference:
- how it has manifested itself in different encyclopedic projects, nationally and internationally;
- how it has affected the practices, discourses, technologies, formats, materialities and ideas constituting the modern encyclopedic genre;
- how the genre has transformed, not in a homogenous unilinear way, but at different speeds and rhythms, depending on what aspects we are focusing on;
- to what extent it makes sense to talk about encyclopedias as "modern", "pre-modern" or even "post-modern";
- how the collaborative, communitarian project of Wikipedia is related to the genre of the modern encyclopedia;
- how the genre of the encyclopedia is related to other kinds of institutionalizations of knowledge and information, such as archives, libraries and museums, but also novels and lists interfaces, overlaps, replacements ;
- how the genre conventions of the modern encyclopedia are remediated in digital environments, where the already traditional remediation brought about by Wikipedia is only one of many possibilities etc.
The conference will take place at the National Library in Oslo, November 8-9, 2012, in connection with the exhibition "All knowledge for everyone – encyclopedias and beyond", and is a co-operation between the National Library and the research program Kultrans at the University of Oslo. Based on the conference we will publish an edited volume in the series Nota Bene: Studies from the National Library of Norway, at Novus Press.
Vigdis Moe Skarstein, National Librarian & Helge Jordheim, Academic Director Kultrans.
Øivind Berg (National Library of Norway): The Encyclopedia, the Library, and the completeness of knowledge
The encyclopedia and the library share the object of collecting, organizing, and mediating the knowledge of the world. They also share the idea of the completeness of knowledge. The encyclopedia and the library thus represent different, but related ways of knowledge management. There have been numerous attempts of realizing the ideas of completeness and universality of knowledge throughout history, mostly practical, but theoretical and poetical as well. This paper shortly presents three highly different projects of the 20th century: the "World Encyclopedia" of H.G. Wells, the "Encyclopaedia of unified science" by the "Vienna Circle", and the "Universal Bibliographic Repertory" by Paul Otlet. The idea of completeness has later been basic for the national libraries in their efforts of preserving the documentary heritage, and through their joint international program of universal bibliographic control. During the last twenty years the gap between dreams, ideas, and reality is diminished on account of the digital information revolution.
Anne Beate Maurseth (UC Santa Barbara): Tools of knowledge - Knowledge of tools. The French Encyclopedia.
It has been a tendency to downplay the complexity of the French Encyclopedia. The encyclopedic project has been considered in terms of acquisitive knowledge (savoir d’appropriation) and symptomatic of bourgeois culture as an alliance between knowledge and power. The order of knowledge has been seen as an attempt to "[construct] a world that can be controlled and made to work" (Brewer 1989 and 1993). Likewise the importance of the plates has been emphasized because of its way of representing a world that is easy to maneuver without difficulties of any kind (Barthes 1972). Yet Diderot, as chief-editor, ceaselessly seems to be torn by, on the one hand, the pedagogical yearning to represent the world of knowledge in an uncomplicated and straightforward way and, on the other hand, the persistent experience of difficulties involved in representing the world of knowledge. In this paper I will discuss further the complexity of which the French Encyclopedia was conceived, both as a general tool of knowledge and as a specific knowledge of tools.
Tore Rem (University of Oslo) & Siv F. Berg (National Library of Norway): Knowledge for sale
Encyclopedias are collections of knowledge - but they were also material items, produced for marketing and sale. The left-wing encyclopedia PaxLeksikon (1976-1982) sold itself as something radically new - but had several similarities to more traditional encyclopedias.
Seth Rudy (Rhodes College, Memphis): The More Things Change: Experiments in Encyclopedism, Past and Present.
The Age of Encyclopedias was one of debate and experimentation — a series of philosophical and practical arguments about what kinds of work encyclopedias should do, how they should do it, and what forms they could or could not take. Throughout the eighteenth century, descriptions and defenses of plans and methods intended to digest and make useful what might otherwise remain an unmanageable chaos of information echoed across a wide range of texts and genres. The relative stability of the general encyclopedia’s form and functions over the last two centuries has tended to draw critical attention away both from other kinds of literature once much more closely related to it as well as those experiments that helped to define what was until very recently the enduring paradigm. By examining the Lexicon Technicum, Cyclopædia, Encyclopédie, and Britannica alongside other encyclopedic texts like An Universal History, Martin’s Magazine, and Tristram Shandy, "The More Things Change" will place the development of the modern encyclopedia in the broader literary context of the eighteenth century and identify some of the dynamics that continue to inform the production of encyclopedic bodies of knowledge in the digital age.
Maria Simonsen (Lund University): Borders of Knowledge. A comparative study of Nordisk familjebok and Salmonsens Konversationsleksikon
With the publication of Nordisk familjebok and Salmonsens Konversationsleksikon around 1900 Sweden and Denmark respectively received their first major national encyclopedias. In this paper I discuss and compare the two projects: I look at the initiatives of the two ventures, as well as the ways in which the encyclopedias were produced, promoted and distributed. I also consider how content was formed and affected by business concern and financial strategies, popular science and the concept of “Bildung”, very influential in the Nordic countries in this period.
Ulrike Spree (Hamburg University of Applied Sciences): Mutually dependent - Encyclopedias and their audiences.
Inspired by the claim of the editor of Junior Pears Encyclopaedia (1964) that an encyclopaedia should be shaped by a body of readers as well as by the contributors, this talk explores the different ways how encyclopaedias communicate and collaborate with their readers. The focus is on German and British examples during the ‘long 19th century’. An outlook will take into consideration the paradigmatic changes in the relationship between producers and recipients of encyclopaedias in digital and online environments. Ultimately, the talk tries to determine the degree of information literacy the makers of encyclopaedias take for granted on the side of their readers as well as by which means they strive to support their readers in becoming information literate.
Olof Sundin (Lund University): Producing Contemporary Encyclopaedic Knowledge: Between Continuity and Change
The presentation reports from an on-going project studying the construction of encyclopaedias’ trustworthiness in the digital media landscape. It starts from the overall question: What happens in the encounter between encyclopaedic knowledge – traditionally communicated in print – and the changed conditions for production of knowledge that digital media and networks bring with them? In particular, the project aims to understand how the interplay between human and socio-material actors constructs encyclopaedias' knowledge and their trustworthiness in view of digital and networked media. The study draws on a socio-technical perspective as inspired by Science & Technology Studies (STS). The empirical material is the result of recurrent participatory observations over a period of (at the time of writing) six months at the Swedish encyclopaedia Nationalencyklopedin (NE) together with interviews and document studies. The presentation provides insight into the daily editorial work at a contemporary encyclopaedia that strives to establish itself as a trusted key player in today’s networked knowledge society. In Google’s and Wikipedia’s all encompassing shadow old and new modes exist side by side when the encyclopaedia is groping a way towards the future. In the increasingly distributed machinery of public knowledge production, the very meaning of encyclopaedic knowledge is a constant issue of negotiation.
Johan L. Tønnesson (University of Oslo): On paper: This is anti-militarism. Ideological construction and deconstruction in a hypertextual network in Norwegian Workers’ Dictionary (1932)
Norwegian Workers’ Dictionary (1932-36) is a quite unique publication in that a group of intellectuals in a rather small language community managed to produce and effectively distribute a large scale encyclopaedia with orthodox Marxism as a common guideline. In this paper, I will explore the article “Antimilitarisme” (anti-militarism) as a core text in a hypertextual system derived from this articles’ references to other articles in the dictionary’s six volumes. This system, or intertextual “large text”, consists of (at least) 26 articles altogether. As in most encyclopaedias, a combination of a constative and a declarative speech acts (cf. John Searle’s taxonomy) is dominating: the very task of the genre is, of course, to describe, explain and define. However, through a text analysis I will argue that the speech acts in this case are performed not only in an authoritative, but even in a highly authoritarian manner. The audience for these acts are, principally, workers and suppressed people all over the world. Hence the macro speech act is a directive: Revolt! The main thesis in the core article, as in most of the “large text” as a whole is that anti-militarism should not be confused with pacifism; it certainly is quite the contrary. What anti-militarists all over the world want to do is to arm the peoples and disarm their rulers. In the core text this message is supported by exegeses of various Marxist quotations from 1848 to 1914, formed as a narrative with First World War as the implicit endpoint. Hence the “chauvinist” decisions made by various parts of the international workers’ movement 1914-1918 are highly lamented as betrayals . However, in the dictionary’s own hypertextual network, it is possible to find traces of the same ’betrayal’.