The Cambridge Historical Encyclopedia of Great Britain and Ireland
Four viewpoints - one from its editor, three from reviewers - on the making of a major new historical encyclopedia.
When I was invited in November 1981 to edit The Cambridge Historical Encyclopedia of Great Britain and Ireland, I did two things before deciding whether to accept. First, I looked at the rust on my 1977 Chrysler Alpine, and concluded that I did need the money offered. Then I walked around the Oxford bookshops, to see what other editors had done. There were some good historical atlases, often with sophisticated commentaries, but their coverage was restricted to issues which could be mapped. There were 'historical encyclopedias' which were really multi-author outline histories, in which individual writers contributed single chapters to a general survey. There were also dictionaries of historical facts, with short descriptions of events, institutions and careers, arranged alphabetically. Each category of work seemed defective: they offered either detail without explanation or explanation without the evidence which is the real stuff of history. There was, I thought, scope for something different and I accepted the invitation.