An encyclopedia contains information of all kinds; You can find data on historical events, definitions of terms, information related to the functioning of things, human anatomy, biology, science and medicine, among others.
Broadly speaking, an encyclopedia is a compendium of general knowledge and can be made up of one or more volumes. Although encyclopedias are grouped under the same category as dictionaries, they are much more extensive since they can be organized differently and contain more information than dictionaries.
In the past, encyclopedias were compiled into multiple volumes. But currently, the publication of an encyclopedia can be done digitally, grouping all its content on a disk or website where it can be located quickly and accurately. In this way, the information can be constantly updated.
Over time, multiple encyclopedias have been developed on a wide variety of topics. In this way, there are books of this type specialized in medical, botanical, related to art, astronomy, bioaesthetics and even economics and religion.
The most important encyclopedia of our time is the British Encyclopedia. It contains information on biology, arts, culture, gastronomy, geography, health, medicine, history, literature, languages, music, philosophy, religion, popular culture, science, sociology, sports, recreation, technology and miscellaneous.
Format and purpose
Many people mistake an encyclopedia for a dictionary, even though they are essentially different publications. A dictionary contains information related to the definitions of words, occasionally accompanied by illustrations to give readers the meaning of individual terms or phrases.
On the other hand, an encyclopedia explores topics in greater depth and regularly includes illustrations, maps, and photographs.
The information contained in an encyclopedia can be organized alphabetically (as in a dictionary) or grouped by categories or cross references, always seeking to facilitate its reading.
Readers can find a wide variety of topics in the volumes of an encyclopedia, making them an excellent reference tool. Historical events, such as battles or wars, are illustrated in an encyclopedia, including the dates when they occurred.
Similarly, you can find scientific information related to research data, scientific theories proposed throughout history, biographies of important scientists and illustrations of each of the topics discussed.
The encyclopedia is not alien to popular culture, for this reason it includes short biographies, names of famous people and information about celebrities. However, as time goes by, publishers review and update the content, with the aim that it is always relevant and complete.
Pliny the Elder, with the help of his nephew, wrote the first documented encyclopedia in the 1st century BC in Italy. Pliny was a scientist, naturalist, and writer who focused his efforts on the writing of what would eventually become a 37-volume collection containing information on a wide range of topics.
Pliny’s encyclopedia was called “Naturalis Historia” and had information related to anthropology, sociology, psychology, agriculture and even pharmacology.
This encyclopedia format was in force for a time until with the appearance of Christianity it was renewed and a religious touch was given. By 560 AD, the first Christian encyclopedia was published and soon after the first Muslim encyclopedia appeared.
One of the most extensive encyclopedias created by man was written between 1403 and 1408 in China, and it became known as the Yongle Encyclopedia . It consisted of 11,000 handwritten volumes. Sadly, most of these volumes have disappeared and fewer than 400 volumes are currently preserved.
The information in Yongle’s encyclopedia was varied and covered topics related to agriculture, art, astronomy, theater, geology, history, literature, medicine, natural science, religion, and others.
The encyclopedia as we know it today was written during the Renaissance in 1559 and was called the “Encyclopedia” or “Knowledge of the Disciplines of the World”, promoted by encyclopedism in the Enlightenment.
This model is the one that has been used for the last 500 years and was possible thanks to the introduction of painting in the compiled volumes that allowed the specific illustration of each subject.
The word encyclopedia comes from the Greek word enkyklia paideia, which means “general knowledge.” In this way, an encyclopedia will always be designed to contain general information on all topics, keeping it permanently updated.
In the 20th century, the Encyclopaedia Britannica became the most recognized and important compilation of encyclopedic information in the West.
Similarly, topic-specific encyclopedias also became popular, addressing topics ranging from economics, bio-aesthetics, to Judaism. However, multiple inexpensive and simpler specimens were also produced and marketed during this time.
At the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, many publishers began to publish encyclopedias on digital media, such as CDs or DVDs. Even today many encyclopedias can be found completely on the internet without necessarily having a printed version of their content.
One of the main advantages of having encyclopedias online is that they can be edited frequently in order to stay current. Traditionally a single writer was in charge of the writing of an encyclopedia, and was supported by colleagues in the validation of the content.
However, today the information contained in an encyclopedia is captured by teams of anonymous writers who can compile the information without having to find it in the same place. This is how formats such as Wikipedia are viable and can be written in any language.
Regardless of the type of publication, the information compiled in an encyclopedia is divided into articles or entries, organized in such a way that their reading is coherent and logical. This information always focuses on the facts related to each subject, beyond simple linguistic considerations.
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