14th (1929) edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica – Preface

Volume 1 of the 14th (1929) edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica contains a Preface. Here the history of the Encyclopedia is described as well as what changed from edition to edition. In the chapter “Twenty Years Ago” of the Preface, when comparing the 14th edition to the 11th edition(1910), it is noted briefly what terms and words are now prevalent or out of use. We do this easily now with digital searches, but in this more analogue version, some of the changes noted in those 20 years are:

“There is no article on Isotopes; nor on Quantum Theory nor on Brownian Movement… Hormones …are only mentioned in a few sentences here and there…. There was very little about the Cinematograph….nothing about Broadcasting. There is no separate contribution headed Aeroplane. It was the same and more markedly with Wireless. A few pages about it came under the head of Telegraph and nowhere is there any anticipation of Wireless telephony.”

The editor further states “On the side of scientific thought and practice, generally, the difference between the Eleventh Edition and its present successor is like an advance not of 20 years but of a hundred.”

I think that the same cannot be said of scientific thought and practice in the 84 years between 1929 and now, 2013.  By comparison, we would have to say that the change in the last 83 years is like an advance of 5 times that period or 420 years.  No, I think we have made incremental advances that were based on the seminal findings made before 1929.  What do you think?

In the section Changes in Two Decades, sub-titled II. Mechanisms and Customs of Life (1908-1929), a lot of changes have occurred in daily life:

“In ordinary human habit and its familiar appliances, there is, let us repeat it, as much difference in many ways between the present and the preceding generation as between the latter and the middle ages.”  (An interesting observation with some truth to it. D.Segal)

To demonstrate that “giant leap for Mankind” ( to quote Neil Armstrong, moonwalker), the editors go on to say:

“The Atlantic has been flown both ways. These isolated exploits may (emphasis D. Segal) foreshadow regular services before another two decades are over. Some believe that in the end, the great airships will best provide for long-distance voyages over the oceans and between continents inhabited by the English-speaking communities.

Air-craft are still but passing specks across the spaces of the sky, often not so conspicuous to an upward view as is a flight of birds. (I think this description of the empty sky is worth noting. D. Segal)

…the dense increase of motor traffic by private cars, “taxis” and the bulkier public and commercial vehicles, has done more than any innovation for many centuries to alter the aspect both of crowded cities and of open roads, while accelerating the spirit of human movement and spreading manipulative skill. ( Dense traffic indeed! D. Segal)

World-telephony is beginning. It has happened to the present writer, expecting a London call, to find himself rung up for a quarter of an hour’s conversation with Los Angeles over six thousand miles away. Television itself has become a real thing , starting modestly like all the other miracles of modern invention, but promising to reveal some day to each other faces and places at any distance apart. Will the time come ever, thought far hence, when people anywhere without stirring shall be able to visit the National Gallery, the Prado, the Accademia, the Uffizi, the Louvre and the rest? Some experts say “Yes!”

We see ourselves at the outset of another potent agency-the creation of regional and national networks of electric supply whether generated by coal burned or by falling water. These volumes record the new researches looking to the conversion of crude coal…into oil… with a residual smokeless fuel. Success in this direction seems already fairly sure to attain that priceless gain to the comeliness and health of human conditions-a civilization industrialized and urbanized yet smokeless.”

(Still trying to work out “smokeless”, 84 years later. D. Segal)


About Don Segal

See Commentary, Photos, Drawings and Poetry on my blog at donsegal.wordpress.com.
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