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Eighteenth-Century Studies 34.3 (2001) 461-465

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Book Review

A Million Pages and Counting--Recent German Encyclopedia Research

Archiv der europäischen Lexikographie: Enzyklopädien (Erlangen: Harald Fischer, 1992ff). 7,837 microfiches. DM 102,730.00.

Franz M. Eybl, Wolfgang Harms, Hans-Henrik Krummacher, and Werner Welzig, eds. Enzyklopädien der frühen Neuzeit: Beiträge zu ihrer Erforschung (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1995). Pp. 334. DM 98.00 cloth.

Grosses vollständiges Universal-Lexicon aller Wissenschaften und Künste [. . .]. 64 vols. (Halle und Leipzig: Johann Heinrich Zedler, 1732-50). Electronic edition: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Münchener Digitalisierungszentrum <>.

Ulrike Spree. Das Streben nach Wissen: eine vergleichende Gattungsgeschichte der populären Enzyklopädie in Deutschland und Großbritannien im 19. Jahrhundert (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 2000). Pp. 372. DM 104.00 paper.

German research on encyclopedias, perhaps not a field known for exciting news, has recently produced interesting new work. A recent special issue of Das Achtzehnte Jahrhundert [22, 1 (1998)] with fourteen contributions on the subject closes with a provocative piece by Martin Fontius (139-45) that pointedly discusses the inadequacy of taking questions from research on the Encyclopédie and applying them to German traditions, and asks whether such questions are even appropriate for most European encyclopedias. Simply stated, do we analyze an encyclopedia according to its editorial program and political impact, or do we foreground user reading habits and the social institution of genre formation? If Ulrike Spree's categories are accepted as valid components of a genre history, encyclopedias become a far more audience-oriented, market-dependant set of discourse practices confined by specific social and cultural conditions. Before [End Page 561] discussing the substance of Spree's book, it must be said it is sprinkled with entertaining anecdotes and opens with an imagined conversation constructed with quotes from notable thinkers of the era--Coleridge, Treitschke, Fontane, Harriett Martineau. As many more German encyclopedias are now available, thanks to a couple of extensive microfilm and electronic publishing projects, the enormous variety and countless pages can be consulted without years of visits to archives. So perhaps lightened by some humor and equipped with fresh methods some researchers might be tempted to approach the newly accessible mountain of encyclopedic works.

For those who are not tempted, this new interest in encyclopedias bundles together several larger issues of Enlightenment research that deserve discussion. Encyclopedias of course have always provided a rich reservoir of source materials. But now using methods of historical discourse analysis to investigate semantics and the construction of concepts, these sources are yielding insights on identity and nation often with cross-cultural perspectives. Their production can be used to study book prices, affordability, and sales, which are related to readership studies measuring purchasing power, literacy levels, and genre preferences. Their translation and distribution are important processes that map the transfer of culture between language regions and nations. From an editorial perspective, encyclopedia projects inherently raise questions of what is knowledge, how it is organized, and what should be included or excluded.

There are few studies which even attempt to conceptualize these issues, let alone try to create out of them a genre history of the encyclopedia. Spree's Das Streben nach Wissen (The Pursuit of Knowledge) manages to engage most of these large questions with an impressive organizational command of materials and effortless and pointed comparative shifts between English and German sources. Spree targets nineteenth-century concepts of Bildung and the English equivalents of "education," "culture," "information," or "knowledge" (20), but she also does this by an extensive review of eighteenth-century developments.

The editorial intentions, content definitions, and imagined audiences presented in some 140 introductory essays and articles from new or revised encyclopedia editions provide the first layer of a genre definition. The often conversational rhetorical strategies seek to create a reader profile, define reader expectations, and anticipate reader responses. Spree's analysis applies a variable grid of categories to bring out genre definitions. Applying the category of social stratification over the audience profile presents the expected reader's social status...


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