Thought on the birthday of an encyclopaedia

I have always been interested in the “what, how and why” of things and wanted to find out more about certain things or events.

Stimulated by the subjects we had in our formation as dancers, we had a class for each subject: history of ballet (or theatrical dance), history of music, history of culture and history of costumes. Though the practical classes were the most important, I loved those courses and later in life I also went studying anthropology.

Whilst I was a dancer I was interested in what went on all over the world and about ballet or theatrical dance (musical, classical and contemporary ballet or dance) I collected dance magazines and newspaper cuttings which after some years became the basics for my Dance Archive, which I gave out of my hand after my serious car accident in 1987, to the Flemish Theatre Institute.

When I was made redundant and I had to go into retirement, I was forced to find another job to provide for my family. In addition to this paid work, I continued to work (unpaid) for my church community and focused on tackling different topics on several blogs.

But by getting older, I noticed that my brain was failing me and that I had to resort to encyclopaedias even more than before to verify facts and dates.

Encyclopaedia means a system or classification of the various branches of knowledge, and whether under the name of “dictionary” or “encyclopaedia” large numbers of reference works have been published and are luckily at my disposal.

A lot has changed since the first alphabetical encyclopaedia was written in English in a work of a London clergyman, John Harris (born about 1667, elected first secretary of the Royal Society on the 30th of November 1709, died on the 7th of September 1719), Lexicon technicum, or an universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, London, 1704, fol., 1220 pages, 4 plates, with many diagrams and figures printed in the text. Such alphabetical order makes it so handy to search for things.

Hannah Ashlyn (or Hanashlyn) Krynicki also looks at such works that function as a second brain for us. She writes:

The Encyclopaedia is basically like the internet. It is a slave that reminds me of random useless things and keeps track of all the details that I would otherwise forget.

What should I do with this epic battle scene that didn’t make the cut? Encyclopaedia. Where did I record the laws of succession for Agran? Encyclopaedia. How much older was Sardar than Elkay? Encyclopaedia. {Why I Wrote an Encyclopaedia (and Maybe You Should, Too)}

This 1921 advertisement for the Encyclopedia Americana suggests that other encyclopedias are as out-of-date as the locomotives of 90 years earlier.

Regarding the dance, I had a huge deck of cards with thousands of cards arranged alphabetically. Everything was easy to find in there. But now that all those files have been removed from the house and are accessible to the general public in a specialised library, I have to start my search again at home.

Because everything changes so quickly, some dictionaries and encyclopaedia had to be replaced (or better: supplemented) by more recent contemporary editions. Otherwise, we will very quickly become out of date and unable to keep up with all the new inventions and events.

For lots of writers it is a blessing that we now have the internet to do searches, but to save time we need still those dictionaries and encyclopaedias.

Krynicki her encyclopaedia saves her from having to re-do the same research over and over or scramble through a heap of sticky notes to find where she wrote my main character’s birth year.

Having all the information written down and organized in a place where I can easily find it allows me to focus on writing the actual novel. {How to Stay Organized as a Writer}

This way we, who want to write, need to have our own system next to the provision of printed reference works, dictionaries and encyclopaedia.

Please find out how I find my way in this world of so much printed and published material on the net. > 253 years ago the first edition of my favourite encyclopaedia was published

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Filed under Cultural affairs, Educational affairs, Headlines - News, History, Knowledge & Wisdom, Science

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