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Encyclopædia Britannica

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1913 Censored page for the 11th edition, with the slogan When in doubt "look it up " in the Encyclopædia Britannica
1913 Censored page for the 11th edition, with the slogan When in doubt "look it up " in the Encyclopædia Britannica

The Encyclopædia Britannica (properly spelt with æ, the ae-ligature) is the oldest and most prestigious English-language general encyclopedia. Its articles are commonly considered accurate, reliable and well-written.

A product of the Scottish enlightenment, it was originally published in Edinburgh by Adam and Charles Black beginning in the 18th century. Unlike the French Encyclopédie, Britannica was an extremely conservative publication. Later editions were usually dedicated to the reigning monarch. The publication moved from Scotland to London and became associated with The Times newspaper in the 1870s for its ninth and tenth editions. For the eleventh edition the publication became associated with the University of Cambridge, also in England. The trademark and publication rights were sold after the 11th edition to Sears Roebuck and it moved to Chicago, Illinois, United States. Sears Roebuck offered it as a gift to the University of Chicago in 1941. In January 1996 it was purchased by billionaire Swiss financier Jacqui Safra.

Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. now owns a trademark on the word "Britannica." As of 2004, the most complete version of Encyclopædia Britannica contains about 120,000 articles, with 44 million words, and a comprehensive index, the first of its kind for a major encyclopedia. It is published in paper form (32 volumes containing 65,000 articles, list price US$1400), online (120,000 articles, brief summaries of articles can be viewed for free, and the full text is available for US$10 per month or US$60 per year for individual subscribers), on CD-ROM (more than 100,000 articles, US$50), and on DVD-ROM (more than 100,000 articles, US$50).

The current version of Britannica was written by over 4,000 contributors, including noted scholars such as Milton Friedman, Carl Sagan, and Michael DeBakey. Thirty-five percent of the content of the encyclopedia has been re-written within the last two years.

Under Safra's ownership the company has experienced unprecedented financial woes with freelance contributors waiting up to six months for checks and staff going years without raises, according to a report in the New York Post. Cost-cutting measures have included mandates to use free photos. Britannica in December 2002 told employees it would raise the contribution paid into their 401(k) accounts, then eliminated them entirely. A company spokesperson said, "We've had some cost reductions and belt-tightening but we're not going into details… We're a privately held company."

Dale Hoiberg is the publication's current editor-in-chief. Robert McHenry held that position from 1992 to 1997. Ted Pappas is the current executive editor. Don Yannias , former CEO of the company when it was "hemorrhaging money," serves on Britannica's Board of Directors.

Edition history

Edition Published Size
1st 17681771 3 vol.
2nd 17771784 10 vol.
3rd 17881797, 1801 sup. 18 vol. + 2 sup.
4th 18011809 20 vol.
5th 1815 20 vol.
6th 18201823, 18151824 sup. 20 vol. + 2 sup.
7th 18301842 21 vol.
8th 18521860 21 vol. + index
9th 18701890 24 vol. + index (1)
10th 19021903 9th ed. + 9 sup (2)
11th 19101911 29 vol (3)
12th 19211922 11th ed. + 3 sup.
13th 1926 11th ed.+ 6 sup.
14th 19291973 24 vol.
15th 19741984 28 vol. (4)
1985 32 vol.

vol. = volume, sup. = supplement

(1)  9th ed. featured articles by notables of the day, such as James Maxwell on electricity and magnetism, and William Thomson (who became Lord Kelvin) on heat.
(2) 10th ed. added a maps volume and an index volume
(3) 11th ed. Considered to be the classic edition of Encyclopædia Britannica and available in the public domain (see 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica).
(4) Under the influence of Mortimer Adler, the 15th edition was published not as one A-Z sequence of volumes but multiple sets ("Micropædia" and "Macropædia") that covered topics in different degrees of depth.

The first CD-ROM edition was issued in 1994. At that time also an online version was offered for paid subscription. In 1999 this was offered for free, and no revised print versions appeared. The experiment was ended, however, in 2001 and a new printed set was issued in 2002.

External links

  • Encyclopædia Britannica — official website
  • Dusting off the Britannica article from Business Week (1997)
  • Errors in the Encyclopædia Britannica which have been corrected in Wikipedia , a list of alleged mistakes in the Britannica and how they have been corrected in the on-line collaborative encyclopedia Wikipedia
  • One reader's catalogue of errors in the Encyclopædia Britannica
  • Slice of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, as public domain text on Project Gutenberg
  • The Lies And Fallacies Of The Encyclopædia Britannica. How Powerful And Shameless Clerical Forces Castrated A Famous Work Of Reference by Joseph McCabe, c. 1947. Tract that claims to show systematic religious bias in the Britannica of the time.
  • Vintage Britannica or "Evolving Knowledge" — excerpts on a single topic selected from various Britannica editions since 1768

Last updated: 01-28-2005 09:51:33
Last updated: 02-11-2005 17:47:38