Encyclopedias have always occupied a precarious position in academia. On the one hand they taxonomize human knowledge and provide valuable entry points for scholars and students into the intellectual worlds of academic disciplines, covering their subject matters in more breadth and detail than could any single person or even any reasonably-sized university department. On the other hand, they carry a risk of congealing knowledge into a cold and quickly-obsolete imitation of living scholarship, stultifying the thought of beginners who might be better off wrestling with multiple, recent perspectives than the predigested orthodoxy of a designated expert. The tension in being encyclopedic is especially acute today, given the recent explosion in the number of universities, scholars, and academic publications. While the explosion has made faith- ful and succinct summarization even more elusive, encyclopedias have perhaps never been more relevant. If we wish to prevent disciplines from disintegrating into collections of highly-technical cottage industries in which specialists speak only amongst themselves, the development and maintenance of reference works offering accessible, up-to-date summaries is imperative.

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A quote saved on Feb. 26, 2013.


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