Wednesday, October 25

A Good Encyclopædia

A recent e-mail correspondent asked my opinion about the best encyclopædia to procure for her library. Her concern was that most modern projects seem to be rife with political-correctness, modernist ideology, and secularist bias. And of course, she is right about all that. But even worse, the material in the most recently published encyclopædias is often so dumbed-down by a least-common-denominator-brevity that the articles are really no longer academically reliable.

So, what would I recommend? Here is what I told my friend:

Alas, there have been no solid or substantive encyclopædia projects for many, many years. The last two really useful projects were the Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th edition, published by the Times of London and the Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition, published by the Cambridge University Press.

I have been talking to publishers for years about the need for an entirely new encyclopædia project, written by the world's foremost authorities in every discipline, but from a faithful Christian worldview perspective. But, as you can imagine, such an undertaking would require enormous resources of time, energy, and money. Alas, most publishers cannot justify that kind of a project given the financial restraints they face day in and day out.

13 comments:

wyclif said...

Now that you mention it, I've been looking for a decent EB 11th ed.

If anybody has any leads, feel free to drop me a line.

Michael Patrick Leahy said...

I am sure you are familiar with Wikipedia, the encylopedia that is an editable web site. That's the advantage AND disadvantage of Wikipedia. Anyone can edit it. As a consequence, some of the articles are less than stellar.

The co-founder of Wikipedia is launching a new web based encylopedia, called Citizendium. This project will have academically qualified editors. We'll see if the quality is better than Wikipedia.

For ease of use, you can't beat Wikipedia though.

Most kids today have NEVER heard of Britannica, but HAVE heard of Wikipedia.

Josh said...

For an encyclopaedia project with the scope and vision that you entailled, it would of necessity have to be an online "wiki" of some sort for viability, exposure, and success. Heck, I'd start with a wiki on church history and just enlist the help of your network of pastoral and theological luminaries to get it going.

Rob Scott said...

wyclif: Project Gutenberg is putting Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition online. They have volume 1 complete and are working on volume 2. The Wikipedia entry (ironically) also lists other places on the web where the scanned pages are available.

Michael and Josh are right: The best way to start a Christian worldview encyclopedia project would be to start a wiki and restrict the author who can work on it. Since the text of the Wikipedia is available under a free licensed, you could use it -- and/or the Britannica 11th -- as a starting point. The resulting content would also need to be licensed the same way. I'm sure you could get someone to host a "MediaWiki" (the engine that runs Wikipedia) since it is also freely available. Heck, I might be able to do it. Drop me a line if you're interested.

Michael Patrick Leahy said...

Rob is right about his "wiki" idea. The Citizendium project will take content from Wikipedia as a starting point, since it is in the public domain, then add and edit.

I would be happy to help anyone who is interested in setting up a "wiki" for a Christian world view Encylopedia.

Rob, as you know, the "WikiMedia" software that runs Wikipedia is free. You can set up your own "wiki" in about half an hour. The key, however, is installing it so that contributors are monitored and edited.

But, it's an interesting project idea and shouldn't be all that difficult to organize a group of "Christian world view Encylopedia" editors.

Amy said...

Rob and Michael:
Just for the fun of it, I'm going to add this little "Christian world view Encyclopedia" idea to the list of King's Meadow's hopes and dreams. Can you all e-mail me (Amy@KingsMeadow.com) so I have your addresses in case we decide this is something we can do?

Amy Shore

Michael Patrick Leahy said...

Amy,

Just sent you an email. Also dropped a note off on Rob's blog.

The beauty of the wiki concept is that launching such a project is easy.

The problem will come in managing its growth and maintaining its integrity.

George said...

Great ideas, all. I think we ought to work on some sort of a plan for implementation. Part of the key for us will be our new server--which we hope to buy and install soon.

Michael Patrick Leahy said...

George,

I use westhost.com for my business (I host websites as well as handle the internet marketing). I have enough capacity with westhost to LAUNCH such a project but not enough to sustain it. Wikipedia, for instance, has 1.4 million articles and I imagine pretty large server capacity.

Outsourcing the server though is a possibility to be considered. Using your new server may be the right answer, but not necessarily so.

The key is to consider the SCOPE of the project. For instance, until a Wikipedia article has been edited and approved for its Christian world view, someone coming to christianpedia.org (or whatever the domain name ends up being) could simply be pointed to the Wikipedia article. So we would not have to host that article.

So the server requirements would then be limited by the growth of approved articles.

The interesting thing to consider about the growth in the number of articles is the large number of potential contributors (students at Christian schools) and editors (Christian educators and experts).

I know, for instance, that Chris Perrin, Headmaster at Covenant Christian Academy has his students involved in several ongoing Wikipedia contribution projects.

Michael Patrick Leahy said...

George,

I use westhost.com for my business (I host websites as well as handle the internet marketing). I have enough capacity with westhost to LAUNCH such a project but not enough to sustain it. Wikipedia, for instance, has 1.4 million articles and I imagine pretty large server capacity.

Outsourcing the server though is a possibility to be considered. Using your new server may be the right answer, but not necessarily so.

The key is to consider the SCOPE of the project. For instance, until a Wikipedia article has been edited and approved for its Christian world view, someone coming to christianpedia.org (or whatever the domain name ends up being) could simply be pointed to the Wikipedia article. So we would not have to host that article.

So the server requirements would then be limited by the growth of approved articles.

The interesting thing to consider about the growth in the number of articles is the large number of potential contributors (students at Christian schools) and editors (Christian educators and experts).

I know, for instance, that Chris Perrin, Headmaster at Covenant Christian Academy has his students involved in several ongoing Wikipedia contribution projects.

Michael Patrick Leahy said...

For an example of an "Orthodox Catholic" model of such an encyclopedia on a wiki, check out

http://orthodoxwiki.org/Main_Page

Michael Patrick Leahy said...

Here's another one:

http://www.wikichristian.org/index.php/Main_Page

Chris Rhoades said...

I think a good model as far as scope and academics is the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation. It is in 4 volumes and is incredible. Now that I'm thinking, there is a good 4 vol. set on patrology - Quarten perhaps? I also have a nice 6 vol. Dutch work from a Christian perspective. I guess what I'm getting at is that the whole wheel may not have to be reinvented. Just a lot of spokes etc.