Circle learning

[first published 18th March 2012]

The demise of the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s printed edition has been greeted with an awful lot of breast-beating, not least in the Grauniad, where Ian Jack bemoans its demise in not-so unequivocal terms, and several of the commentators wax not-so-lyrical about the clumping great tomes. In an area in which information changes so rapidly and inexorably, the printed source-book is prey to obsolescence at speed. To take a cute example, the C18th children’s ‘science’ book (and I use the term loosely, because it’s anachronistic to use this term: natural philosophy is so much more accurate) The Newtonian System of Philosophy Adapted to the Capacities of Young Gentlemen and Ladies (London: John Newbery, 1761) AKA Tom Telescope went through six editions between publication and the turn of the century. Over this time several important changes were made to the text. Examples are the introduction of the Orrery as a demonstrative instrument in the 1790s, with a point being made about the slowness of the mechanical demonstrations to keep pace with new discoveries such as the planet discovered by Herschal in 1781: Continue reading