Science in the Scottish Enlightenment
Science in the Scottish Enlightenment

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Science in the Scottish Enlightenment

3.2 Publishing

One of the strongest impulses in the Enlightenment was to codify knowledge and publish it widely. The most notable example of this impulse is the French Encyclopedic, 'a rational dictionary of the sciences, art and trades’, published chiefly in Paris in the 1750s and 1760s, under the indomitable editorship of Denis Diderot. The seventeen volumes of text and eleven volumes of plates were intended to summarise and clearly present everything that was worth knowing, from the construction of a water wheel or a glass manufactory to the latest theories in the psychology of perception.

The impulse which drove Diderot was working in Edinburgh too. A number of encyclopaedias were started, but the venture which became the most famous was the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which started in the 1760s. Britannica was coaxed into life by the printer, William Smellie, a man who, though without formal academic qualifications, was a key figure in the dissemination of the work produced within Edinburgh. By the turn of the century, and with perhaps significantly less bashfulness about its origin, the Edinburgh Review was launched. This journal quickly achieved a British reputation and became one of the most influential reviews of science, politics, economics and the arts.

Figure 2
(From frontispiece to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 3rd edn, Edinburgh, 1788. Reproduced by permission of the British Library Board.) ©
British Library Board
Figure 2: An ideal of the Academy: the happy union of arts, science and technology. (Note that the title does not signal the encyclopaedia's Scottish origin – a further indication of the movement's ambivalent attitude to nationhood.)

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