Encyclopedias on the Arts

By Pack, Thomas | Information Today, April 2004 | Go to article overview

Encyclopedias on the Arts


Pack, Thomas, Information Today


The first encyclopedias, compiled in Greece during the fourth century B.C., were meant to give students an all-around education in science, math, philosophy, and literature. For instance, Plato's nephew Speusippus aggregated concepts of philosophy, math, and natural history in a series of articles.

Today, of course, many general encyclopedias are available on the Web. Sites such as Encyclopedia.com and Britannica.com are excellent resources for many research purposes. But sometimes it might be more helpful to use an encyclopedia that focuses on a specific field (like one that addresses just literature).

These specialized encyclopedias often contain more in-depth or authoritative articles than general works and usually cover a broader, more diverse, or more unusual set of topics within their fields.

The following are three innovative encyclopedias that cover different areas of the arts. These specialized reference works can provide access to literature, visual art, or music information you might not find through general encyclopedias.

Books, Authors

If you need information on books, authors, or literary movements, visit the Literary Encyclopedia (http://www.litencyc .com), a resource that focuses on English-language works. According to a note on the site, the encyclopedia's entries, which are written by more than 760 contributors, most of them university professors, "represent the state of the art in scholarly understanding."

The Literary Encyclopedia offers several ways to search: by author, work, or topic. You can also use innovative, advanced search options to find information on a group of authors, works, or topics. For example, the "group of authors" interface lets you search by type of writer (for example, novelist, poet, children's writer, or autobiographer), region or country, date, and keyword. You can limit your results to major figures or choose to see all the entries.

Many of the entries are lengthy, in-depth articles. An entry for a major writer usually runs about 2,500 words and includes links to other information. For example, the entry for Robert Penn Warren includes a detailed biography and links to information on his works, books about him, and other relevant Web sites.

The only drawback to the Literary Encyclopedia is that it's still very much a work in progress. Many entries are incomplete. For some searches, you'll retrieve only a page that says: "We regret we have not completed our entry yet. Please come back another day."

The encyclopedia contains indexed entries on 5,150 writers, 14,500 works, and 1,275 topics, but only about 1,800 of the entries have been completed at this writing. In addition, only about 30 percent of the biographies have been completed, and an even smaller percentage of the topics are finished.

"Because we have been giving priority to our biographical entries, the topics table has relatively few complete entries as yet," says a note on the site, "but it is quite good at furnishing information on Literary Terms and also useful for establishing date lists of major historical events for complex searches [for groups of authors, works, and topics] and timelines."

To build a literary timeline, you just click a button on the home page. You'll then see two dialog boxes: one for works, the other for historical information. In the Works box, you enter selection criteria (such as British novels between 1960 and 1980) and click "Search." You'll then see a horizontal table across the bottom of the screen that shows the works by year. You can click any title to go directly to its encyclopedia entry.

To create a timeline that provides historical context for the literary works, you can enter selection criteria (such as British historical events between 1960 and 1980) to get another horizontal table that shows the historical information by year.

Other features available on the Literary Encyclopedia site include an English stylebook, a glossary of literary terms, and links to other literature sites. …

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