The Business of Making an Encyclopedia and the Impact of Digitization: The Example of the Encyclopædia Iranica

Dagmar A. Riedel

The Business of Making an Encyclopedia and the Impact of Digitization: The Example of the Encyclopædia Iranica
Riedel, Dagmar A.
Center for Iranian Studies
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Revised version of "The 'Dark Ages' of Medieval Iran: Medieval Studies, Islam, and the Digital Version of the Encyclopaedia Iranica," presented at the Third International MARGOT Conference, "The Digital Middle Ages: Teaching and Research," Barnard College, New York, June 2010.
In the brave new world of digital publishing on the internet, encyclopedias have been transformed from unyieldy bookcase fillers to online databases with a seemingly unlimited potential for expansion. The web-based publication of encyclopedias seems particularly appropriate for a multi-disciplinary field such as Medieval Studies that is primarily defined by the time frame of 500–1500 CE. But in order to design databases for reference works that foster comparative research and interdisciplinarity—approaches that we hold so dear because they are rather difficult to realize in our work—it is necessary to understand how digitization and the internet have changed the role of encyclopedias in teaching and research. In the following reflection on how internet encyclopedias fit into the Western history of encyclopedia production since l'Encyclopédie (1751–1780) by Diderot and d'Alembert, I draw upon my experiences as one of the associate editors of the Encyclopædia Iranica (EIr), which includes entries on medieval Iran and medieval Persian literature as part of its comprehensive coverage of Iranian civilization from prehistory to the present (for the conceptualization of the study of medieval Iran within Iranian Studies, compare the approaches of Bulliet 1994 and Fragner 1999). Although the EIr continues to be published in print, its enlarged free online version iranicaonline.org has the potential to become a web-based collaborative project that would promote teaching and research across geographical and disciplinary boundaries.
Islamic culture
Information science
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