Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Encyclopædia Britannica[1] Eleventh Edition (19101911) is perhaps the most famous edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Some of its articles were written by the best-known scholars of the day. The articles are still of value and interest to modern scholars as cultural artifacts of the 19th and early 20th centuries; however, they contain a number of problematic areas for the modern scholar using them as a source. The eleventh edition is no longer restricted by copyright and in the public domain, both in its original text and where parts of it have been incorporated into other online encyclopedias and works such as Wikipedia.

1911 Britannica in the 21st century

The 1911 edition is no longer restricted by copyright, and it is available in several more modern forms. While it may have been a reliable description of the general consensus of its time, for modern readers, the Encyclopedia has several glaring errors, ethnocentric remarks, and other issues:

  • Contemporaneous beliefs about race and ethnicity often prevailed in the Encyclopedia's articles. For example, the entry for "Negro" states, "Mentally the negro is inferior to the white... the arrest or even deterioration of mental development [after adolescence] is no doubt very largely due to the fact that after puberty sexual matters take the first place in the negro's life and thoughts." The article about the American War of Independence attributes the success of the United States in part to "a population mainly of good English blood and instincts".
  • Many articles are now factually outdated, in particular those on science, technology, international and municipal law, and medicine. For example, the article on the vitamin deficiency disease beriberi speculates that it is caused by a fungus, vitamins not having been discovered at the time. Articles about geographic places mention rail connections and ferry stops in towns that today no longer employ such transport.
  • Even where the facts might still be accurate, new information, theories and perspectives developed since 1911 have substantially changed the way the same facts might be interpreted. For example, the modern interpretation of the history of the Visigoths is very different from that reflected in the eleventh edition which used the now out-of-favor Great man theory, such that there are no entries for Visigoth or Goth; rather the history of the tribe is found under the entry for Alaric I.

The eleventh edition of Encyclopædia Britannica has become a commonly quoted source, both because of the reputation of the Britannica and because it is now in the public domain and has been made available on the Internet. It has been used as a source by many modern projects including Wikipedia and the Gutenberg Encyclopedia.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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