The Encyclopedia Race

Gary Nash gave us six reasons why to produce an encyclopedia for Philadelphia.  Reason number three: several models of urban encyclopedias lay before us in Chicago, Cleveland and New York.

As Nash pointed out in his talk at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania last month, the 1,104-page Encyclopedia of Chicago is a marvel to behold.  It has no less than 1,400 entries.  Its 56 thematic maps explore topics including ethnicity, transportation, religious diversity and recreation; its 386 thumbnail maps illustrate neighborhood and suburban municipalities.  This tome, which cost $1.5 million to produce, offers 400 photographs and a biographical dictionary covering some 2,000 individuals. More than 45,000 copies sold in the first three years. Edited by James R. Grossman, Ann Durkin Keating, and Janice L. Reiff, this joint effort of the Chicago Historical Society and the Newberry Library, the Encyclopedia of Chicago, was published in 2004.  The online version – which we’ll explore in a future post – appeared one year later.

In 1987, Indiana University Press published the first edition of the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, compiled and co-edited by David D. Van Tassell and John J. Grabowski.  Initially created and envisioned as a historical resource tool, this book also provided residents a timely and much-needed source of pride.  Coinciding with Cleveland’s bicentennial, the publishers subsequently released a second print edition in 1996.  Two years later, this became the first urban dictionary to go online.  The web version is continually updated.

Few books issued by Yale University Press have sold better than the The Encyclopedia of New York City.  This 1,392-page doorstop, edited by Kenneth T. Jackson and produced in conjunction with the New-York Historical Society, also stands as a critical favorite.  “No one with even a passing interest in New York will be able to live without it,” wrote William Grimes in the New York Book Review.  A second edition, with 1,000 new entries, charts, maps, and tables, is expected in 2008.

If Philadelphia doesn’t soon make its move, the Big Apple will have two editions before the Big Scrapple has one out of the blocks.

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Explore posts in the same categories: A Philadelphia Encyclopedia?

2 Comments on “The Encyclopedia Race”


  1. […] Here, on the Sixth Square, we’ve been discussing the need for a first encyclopedia of Philadelphia before New York City has two.  […]


  2. […] As a call to arms for our civic pride, an encyclopedia project isn’t exactly volcanic. But as Nash observes, we’ve got enough local history down on ink already that the thing is practically half-written. If nothing else, it’d take some attention off all that murderin’ for a hot second. The Sixth Square: Encyclopedi-ite! Related: The Race Is On! […]


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