Encyclopædia Britannica

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Title page of the first edition in 1771
Advertisement for the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica , published in National Geographic , May 1913

The Encyclopædia Britannica [ ɪnˌsaɪkləˈpiːdiə bɹɪˈtænɪkə ] is an English-language encyclopedia ; it claims to be able to summarize human knowledge as broadly as possible. In particular, it has a reputation for containing reliable information from a scientific point of view. In many cases the authors are well-known scientists or well-known publicists; their authorship is proven in each case.


The Encyclopædia Britannica is a product of the Scottish Enlightenment . It was first published in Edinburgh . The first edition appeared in weekly deliveries from 1768, which were combined into three volumes in 1771. Around 1870 the publisher moved from Scotland to London for the 9th and 10th editions and became affiliated with The Times newspaper .

For the eleventh edition, the publisher worked with Cambridge University . After that, a move was due again, as the trademark and publication rights had been sold to Sears Roebuck . Chicago became the new headquarters . The current publisher, which has also acquired the trademark rights for the term "Britannica", is the Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

In 2004 the Britannica contained 75,000 articles with 44 million words. In the 2010 edition, it can still be purchased in paper form (32 volumes, list price $ 1,400), subscribed to via the Internet (brief explanations are free) or read on CD-ROM or DVD without an Internet connection . On March 13, 2012 , the publisher announced that the encyclopedia would only appear digitally in the future.

Edition history

Printed editions

The size of the Britannica grew continuously up to the beginning of the 20th century, but decreased again slightly from the 11th edition (1910–1911).

Edition published scope comment
01. 1768-1771 3 volumes Editor: William Smellie . Starting December 6, 1768, weekly deliveries ( called numbers ) were produced for subscribers . The 100 numbers were combined in three volumes in 1771. Altogether 2391 pages with 160 copperplate engravings . Price: 12 pounds. Sales: approx. 3000 pieces.
02. 1777-1784 10 volumes
03. 1788–1797,
1801, 1803 (revised) supplement
18 volumes +
2 volumes of supplement
04th 1801-1809 20 volumes
05. 1815-1817,
1816-1824 Supplement
20 volumes +
6 volumes of supplement
06th 1820-1823 20 volumes
07th 1830-1842 21 volumes + index Publisher: A&C Black , Edinburgh
08th. 1853-1860 21 volumes + index Publisher: A&C Black
09. 1875-1889 24 volumes + index with the number
25.Famous reprints: 1890, 1892, 1895, 1896, 1898
Publisher: A&C Black. The 9th edition featured special celebrity-written articles such as the one on ether , electricity, and magnetism by James Maxwell and the one on heat by William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin).
10. 1902-1903 9th edition +
11 volumes of supplement
The 9./10. The edition is now numbered 1-35. This can lead to confusion with no. 25: There is an index volume no. 25 in the 9th edition, on the other hand there is no. 25 as the first volume of the 10th edition (which has a new index with no. 35). A really complete 9./10. Edition would contain both index volumes and consist of 36 volumes. On the free market, the “full” 9/10. Edition often offered with 35 volumes, i.e. with only one volume 25. In this case you should make sure that volume 25 is the first text volume of the 10th edition, otherwise it is missing.
11. 1910-1911 29 volumes The 11th edition is considered the classic edition of the Encyclopædia and is in the public domain .
12. 1921-1922 11th edition +
3 volumes of supplement
13. 1926 11th edition +
3 volumes of supplement
Replacement of the 12th edition by 3 improved supplement volumes
14th 1929-1973 24 volumes Articles written by celebrities, e.g. B. George Bernard Shaw on socialism , Trotsky on Lenin .
15th 1974-1984
30 volumes (1st version)
32 volumes (2nd version)
10 volumes Micropædia , 19 volumes Macropædia , 1 volume Propædia (see explanation below).
12 volumes Micropædia , 17 volumes Macropædia , 1 volume Propædia ; additionally 2 register volumes.
The 15th edition, second version:
- 1 volume Propædia (green)
- 12 volumes Micropædia (red)
- 17 volumes Macropædia
- 2 index volumes (blue).
The Britannica book of the year 2002 is placed in front of the blue index volumes .

Since the 15th edition, the printed Britannica has been presented in three parts (first version, from 1974) or in four parts (second version, from 1985), each with a different function:

  • The so-called Micropædia with rather short articles is used for quick searches.
  • If that's not enough for you, you can find very detailed, in-depth articles in Macropædia .
  • The Propædia is a thematic listing of the areas of knowledge. Below a level of ten major topics, you are taken to further sections. Articles in the Macropædia and Micropædia are recommended there.
  • Since 1985, two index volumes have been added that can be used to search for terms from Macropædia and Micropædia .

Situation since the 15th edition

The first CD-ROM edition of Britannica was released in 1994. In 1996 doorstep sales were discontinued.

In 1996, investor Jacob Safra bought the company for $ 135 million and saved it from collapse. For Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., is a subsidiary also the publisher Merriam-Webster .

The current version of the Britannica was created with the participation of over 4,000 professionals, including noted scholars such as Milton Friedman , Carl Sagan, and Michael E. DeBakey, and 100 full-time editors. 35 percent of the content is said to have been rewritten within the last two years (as of 2016).

The online version Britannica Online was offered by subscription from June 2012 for £ 49.95 per year. Since the beginning of 2008, access for "web publishers" has been offered as part of a campaign, which is free for one year. The participants were informed by email in March 2009 that these special conditions could be extended on request. The holder of such access can activate Britannica articles via a link or a widget from his website, so that anyone can read them freely who calls up the page via this link. However, the page cannot be printed out. The Encyclopaedia Britannica also operates the Twitter account "Britannica".

On January 22, 2009, Britannica President Jorge Cauz announced that from January 23, 2009, anyone could expand the encyclopedia over the Internet. However, the changes would have to be approved by an administrator before they appear in the Internet version.

On March 13, 2012, the final discontinuation of the printed Britannica and the complete concentration on the digital offerings was announced. Former CEO of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. Joe Esposito said of declining demand for printed encyclopedias: "The Internet was the last nail in the coffin".

United Soft Media Verlag has been selling a DVD as the so-called Ultimate Edition since 2014 .


The articles in the Encyclopædia Britannica are generally considered thoughtful, reliable, and well-written. In 1994 the New York Times described the Encyclopædia Britannica as "the nation's oldest and most prestigious reference work [United States]". But it also conveys a more Anglo-American view of the world that does not always match that of other encyclopedias. A comparison with works of a similar size often reveals differences, especially when it comes to value-oriented topics.

The American journalist AJ Jacobs tells in his book Britannica & Ich. About someone who set out to become the smartest person in the world , how he put into practice his plan to read the entire Encyclopædia Britannica .

In December 2005, Nature magazine published an article comparing the quality of the Britannica's online edition with that of Wikipedia . The author concluded that there was little difference in the sample with regard to the correctness and completeness of the science articles. The editors of Britannica harshly criticized this article, but Nature held on to it even after Britannica addressed the dispute in advertisements.


  • Harvey binder: The Myth of the Britannica. MacGibbon & Kee, London 1964 (Also: Grove Press, New York NY 1964).
  • AJ Jacobs : Britannica & me. From someone who set out to be the smartest person in the world. From the American by Thomas Mohr. List, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-471-79513-8 .
  • Wolfgang Lierz: Maps from Stieler's hand atlas in the "Encyclopaedia Britannica". In: Cartographica Helvetica. Issue 29, 2004, ISSN  1015-8480 , pp. 27-34 ( full text ).
  • Maren Runte, Julia C. Steube: Encyclopædia Britannica. In: Ulrike Haß (ed.): Large encyclopedias and dictionaries of Europe , De Gruyter, Berlin / Boston 2012, ISBN 978-3-11-019363-3 , pp. 79-104

Web links

Commons : Encyclopædia Britannica  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Encyclopædia Britannica  - Sources and full texts (English)

Individual evidence

  1. Kenneth F. Kister: Kister's Best Encyclopedias: A Comparative Guide to General and Specialized Encyclopedias . Oryx Press, 1994, ISBN 0-89774-744-5 .
  2. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica halts print publication after 244 years. - In: The Guardian . Retrieved March 14, 2012 (English).
  3. Encyclopædia Britannica offers widgets and Twitter. Traditional encyclopedia is making its content accessible through new web services. April 21, 2008. on golem.de
  4. Britannica on Twitter.com
  5. ^ After 244 Years, Encyclopaedia Britannica Stops the Presses. In: The New York Times. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  6. ^ Britannica.com: Britannica Goes All-Out Digital. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  7. May Wong, AP: Lexica: "The Internet was the last nail". In: Spiegel Online . May 25, 2004, accessed May 13, 2020 .
  8. Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Edition, USM United Soft Media Verlag GmbH, Munich 2014, ISBN 978-3-8032-6631-6
  9. John Markoff, Britannica's 44 Million Words Are Going On Line ( March 16, 2005 memento on the Internet Archive ) , February 8, 1994 article in the New York Times on the cover of the business section about Britannica's announcement that it will go online.
  10. Britannica & I. From someone who set out to be the smartest person in the world. From the American by Thomas Mohr. List, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-471-79513-8
  11. Jim Giles: Internet encyclopaedias go head to head. (PDF) Nature, December 15, 2005, p. 900 f , archived from the original on May 24, 2010 ; accessed on June 8, 2016 .
  12. Fatally Flawed. Refuting the recent study on encyclopedic accuracy by the journal Nature. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., March 2006 (PDF)
  13. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica and Nature: a response. March 23, 2006 (PDF)
  14. nature.com (PDF)