by oneafrikan on August 3, 2005
Van Doren warned not that encyclopedias of his day lacked credibility, but that they lacked vitality. “The tone of American encyclopedias is often fiercely inhuman,” he wrote. “It appears to be the wish of some contributors to write about living institutions as if they were pickled frogs, outstretched upon a dissecting board.” An encyclopedia ought to be a “revolutionary document,” he argued. And while Van Doren didn’t call for a new production model, he did say that “the ideal encyclopedia should be radical. It should stop being safe.”
What stood in the way of this new approach was precisely what encyclopedias prided themselves on. “Respectability seems safe,” he wrote. “But what will be respectable in 30 years seems avant-garde now. If an encyclopedia hopes to be respectable in 2000, it must appear daring in the year 1963.”
Great article on Wikipedia, if you’re not sure what it is or what it does.