Impact of Encyclopedia on the Society - Essay Sample

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Carnegie Mellon University
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The Renaissance Era marked a period of immense technical advancements in Europe that led to among others, the advent of the printing press that helped in redefining how scholars acquired and stored information. As stated by Wright (2007), the rise of scientific methods during the Renaissance period corresponded with an increase in scholarly publishing as learning institutions increased across Europe and writers produced large volumes of books that focused on topics ranging from natural sciences and philosophy to politics and traditional religious studies among others. The introduction of the printing press enabled the European publishers to increase the number of books produced each year to increase from 20 million to 200 million, and the increase in the number of available publications facilitated the emergence of the encyclopedia during the 1500s. Although current academicians may consider the encyclopedias as secondary and dull sources of information, the seventeenth-century scholars considered it a significant literary technology and a new invention that enabled the scholars to assess an increasing amount of information. It is important to consider the thoughts of the 17th-century scholars regarding the encyclopedia because according to them through it people can change their way of thinking since the encyclopedia consists different information that has been compiled by different scholars regarding the world. The encyclopedia has summarized and collected relevant information regarding human knowledge in various topics and fields which range from theology, philosophy, arts, and science. It is essential to consider their thoughts since the encyclopedia is a controversial weapon that helps reorganize knowledge basing it on the human reason rather than by theology or nature. According to these scholars, the encyclopedia played a significant role towards intellectual ferment which contributed towards the French Revolution.

An encyclopedia by definition refers to a book that provides information on diverse subjects or divergent aspects of a subject, and the encyclopedias contain information that is typically arranged in an alphabetical order. Some of the earliest known encyclopedias include the Nine Books of Disciplines by Marcus Terentius, Naturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder, Brihat Samhita by Varahamihira, Gunaikeion published by Thomas Heywood in 1624 and Diderots encyclopedia published during the eighteenth century among others. While the early academicians regarded the encyclopedias as crucial to expanding their knowledge, the technological advancements witnessed during the twentieth and twenty-first century threatened the dominance of the encyclopedias in scholarly circles. For example, the introduction of the internet during the 1990s changed the way learners and scholars accessed information and reduced the reliance on traditional encyclopedias. Thus, this paper analyzes the early impacts of the encyclopedias on the society. The paper also assesses how the technological advancements such as the internet affect the encyclopedias and their use. Early Encyclopedias and their Impacts on the Society

The encyclopedias changed the accessibility of information during the Renaissance Era as it enabled scholars to collect and collate information in disciplines such as science, philosophy, history, astrology, astronomy, and medicine among others. Scholars such as Nicolaus Copernicus studied the origin of the universe through Ptolemy in De Revolutionibus Orbium Caelestium while Galileo Galilei reviewed Aristotelian sciences using the encyclopedias. The introduction of the encyclopedias also increased the demand for education because the European society needed an increasing number of trained professionals in science, law, and theology. Thomas Heywood, an English playwright, purported to collate information about all the feminine qualities and characters in his book titled Gunaikeion during the 1600s (Wright, 2007). The encyclopedias also allowed the academicians to study vernacular literature as well as arts and politics among others. As such, the traditional encyclopedias helped in increasing the flexibility of the learning process in addition to enhancing the reader-driven experience.

Another important impact of the early encyclopedias on the society is that they enabled the scholars to reevaluate their ways of thinking on critical subjects such as the nature of human knowledge. This helped in facilitating the great Victorian pursuit for universal classification through the enhanced synthesis of vast information recorded on various disciplines and subjects despite the discords that existed in analyzing information from diverse and remote sources. Condensing the large amounts of information led to the problem of determining the values and classification of different issues (Grendler, 20016). The decision to avoid narrowing various issues helped in expanding the knowledge in several disciplines. For example, Heywood idea suggested that the readers played a central role in determining the structure of books. While this was crucial in avoiding the restrictions that resulted from the categorization that was prevalent in other books before the seventeenth century, it also helped in shaping the self-organization of information that currently exists on the World Wide Web.

Many households had one book during the eighteenth century, and merchants kept small private bookshelves that had few volumes while the clergy and scholars had libraries that were slightly larger than those maintained by the merchants. The notion of public libraries was non-existent during the period, and this constrained the publishing market. The introduction of technical advancements such as the printing press increased the number of books available to the readers (Hall, 2014). Consequently, this led to the need for a unified philosophical model. Denis Diderot, a French encyclopedists, played an integral part in expanding the amount of information available to the European readers in his Encyclopedie ou Dictionnaire Raisonne des Sciences, des Arts et des Metiers that was published severally between 1751 and 1772 (Wright, 2007). The compendium of knowledge created by Diderot surpassed the information published in earlier works as he tried to collate knowledge from various tradespeople and his publication tackled issues such as glassware, metalwork, and cloth dying processes that were prevalent during the period.

Diderot also made an effort to provide detailed illustrations to the readers in understanding the complexities of the different trades. This proved instrumental in expanding knowledge in various subjects among people from all socioeconomic classes. For instance, many individuals considered cloth dying a complex process until Diderot published his work despite the consternation among some of the European leaders such as Louis XV, King George III, Pope Clement XIII, and other members of the privileged classes (Wright, 2007). The fear among the leaders arose from the fact that Diderots work threatened to disrupt the old religious and political hierarchies that existed in Europe. For example, Diderots encyclopedia allowed the low-class Europeans to question the existing aristocratic presumptions on the issue of scholarship and this threatened the rise of despondency and revolutions.

Impact of Technological Advancements on the use of Encyclopedias

The advent of the internet created revolutions in many aspects of the society by creating new means for individuals to share information, congregate, and communicate through various devices. For example, the internet has expanded the fields of education, health, business, religion, and politics among others. As argued by Selnow (1998), journalists and citizens depend on the internet as a crucial source of information during electioneering process, and the internet allows the reporters to mine information on the publics opinions, voter reactions, and public policies among others. The encyclopedia persists as an important source of disruptive information technology in the modern society, and the emergence of the Wikipedia project continues to raise debates among scholars on its suitability in expanding knowledge. The internet seemingly resists any attempts of categorization and allows readers from diverse backgrounds to access any information. As such, the internet has a positive impact on the use of encyclopedias because it increases the accessibility of information to readers at their convenience. Wikipedia, an example of online encyclopedias, contains entries that exceed three million that are written in languages that exceed one hundred (Wright, 2007).

However, issues of the credibility and authority of sources included in online encyclopedias continue to raise debates among the contemporary scholars. The opponents of online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia argue that they diminish the quality of knowledge available to readers because the absence of controls allows the readers to alter their contents, and this creates unnecessary biases in the available information. Publishers and academic scholars raise populist sentiments on the authority of using the online encyclopedias, and this is a reflection of the opposition witnessed during Diderots times (Wright, 2007). On the other hand, the proponents insist that the online encyclopedias help in creating transparency and openness that guarantees fairness that ensures that the system is self-regulating. Nonetheless, it is essential to note that the internet allows publishers of traditional encyclopedias to avail their works over the World Wide Web to a vast number of readers at low costs. Consequently, the internet can help in ensuring that the traditional encyclopedias remain relevant and do not disappear. This means that the advent of technologies such as the internet has positive impacts on the encyclopedias.


Encyclopedias, regardless of whether they are in print or over the internet, are an important source of information because they allow the modern readers to access vast information on several disciplines and subjects. Some of the earliest encyclopedias include the Nine Books of Disciplines, Naturalis Historia, Brihat Samhita, Gunaikeion, and Diderots encyclopedia among others. An interesting aspect of the early encyclopedias is that they faced resistance and consternation from the political and religious leaders who were averse to their contents because they believed that the encyclopedias could cause chaos. Nonetheless, it is necessary to note that the early encyclopedias allowed members of the society to access information on issues such as cloth dying that appeared complicated during the seventeenth century. Additionally, the introduction of technologies such as the internet has helped in enhancing the use of encyclopedias because the readers can access information from anywhere and at any time through the World Wide Web.


Grendler, P. F. (2006). Renaissance education between religion and politics. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Hall, A. R. (2014). The revolution in science 1500-1750. Routledge.

Selnow, G. W. (1998). Electronic whistle-stops: The impact of the Internet on American politics. Westport, Conn: Praeger.

Wright, A. (2007). Glut: Mastering information through the ages. National Academies Press.

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