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Encyclopaedia : Encyclopaedia, reference work that contains information on all branches of knowledge or that treats a particular branch of knowledge in …

The meaning of the word encyclopaedia has changed considerably during its long history. Today most people think of an encyclopaedia as a multivolume compendium of all available knowledge, complete with maps and a detailed index, as well as numerous adjuncts such as bibliographies, illustrations, lists of abbreviations and foreign expressions, gazetteers, and so on. They expect it to include biographies of the significant men and women of the present as well as those of the past, and they take it for granted that the alphabetically arranged contents will have been written in their own language by many people and will have been edited by a highly skilled and scholarly staff; nevertheless, not one of these ingredients has remained the same throughout the ages. Encyclopaedias have come in all sizes, from a single 200-page volume written by one man to giant sets of 100 volumes or more. The degree of coverage of knowledge has varied according to the time and country of publication. Illustrations, atlases, and bibliographies have been omitted from many encyclopaedias, and for a long time it was not thought fitting to include biographies of living persons. Indexes are a late addition, and most of the early ones were useless. Alphabetical arrangement was as strongly opposed as the use of any language but Latin, at least in the first 1,000 years of publication in the West, and skilled group editorship has a history of some 200 years.

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