October 29, 2005
Ken's Proposal Proposal
The etymology of the word encyclopedia reflects two Greek roots: enkuklios, meaning "cyclical, periodic," and paideia meaning"education." It has been interpreted as "general education" or "whole circle of knowledge." While its meaning has changed over time, it has generally referred to a comprehensive attempt to gather knowledge in a single location.
The dynamics of the loci of knowledge sources as a representation of corresponding shifts in power can be viewed in attempts to locate and consolidate information. Whether this power operates hierarchically or in a more lateral, dispersed fashion has been a changing and contested process. In the world of oral culture, knowledge dispersion was a communal and interactive process. Those with exceptional recollective and narrative skills were often afforded respected positions within the community, but the utilization and continuity of information was reliant upon the efforts of the group. With the advent of print culture, and innovations in production and propagation, the control over the production of knowledge was held in fewer hands, and as a result, in many ways more uniform. An encyclopedia became a central source of knowledge to its readers, but what was on its pages was decided on by only a few. Moreover, the learning process had become passive - authors were rarely available to answer questions or challenges.
However, digital media has offered a new format for the encyclopedia. Early incarnations generally took the form of cd-roms which were similar to traditional encyclopedias, but with hypertext capabilities. More recently a new format has been introduced with the "wiki," specifically, but not limited to, the Wikipedia. In a sense, with important differences, the wiki model seems closer to the oral tradition, with a communal and interactive creation and dispersion of information, than to the print model. Users can both seek out and contribute to the collection of knowledge, potentially reclaiming from the "experts" the loci of control.
There are many nuances to this which I hope to explore in my project, through a history of past creation and uses of encyclopedias, as well as a detailed analysis of the potential differences wikis offer. These would include disputes over included material, how encyclopedias were made available to the public, and the influence the publishing industry held over these processes. Moreover, the passionate defenses and criticisms of the Wikipedia mark it as an extremely contested territory. Still. its high levels of traffic indicate it is not to be ignored. In addition to presenting a detailed hypertexted history of encyclopedias, I would hope to offer an experiment with media types in the project as well, where users could compare oral, print, and wiki versions of similar entries, and understand the multifaceted differences between them. This could outline the important impact which information control has on education and knowledge-power.
Posted by kalbers at October 29, 2005 07:21 PM