Historical Encyclopedias and Dictionaries

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Historical Encyclopedias and Dictionaries


reference books containing a systematic collection of information on history and related fields. There are encyclopedias on world history as a whole, on particular historical periods, on the history of continents, countries, and peoples, and on different branches of history, such as the history of culture or religion. Some are devoted to particular historical events. Historical encyclopedias usually contain biographical information on historical figures and historians, maps, and illustrations. Some encyclopedias limit themselves to defining historical terms. Historical encyclopedias often contain material on related branches of knowledge, particularly geography, literature, and philosophy. A considerable amount of material on history is also contained in general encyclopedias, biographical dictionaries, military encyclopedias and dictionaries, and diplomatic dictionaries.

The first publications resembling historical dictionaries appeared in the 16th-18th centuries. These were usually historical-philological and geographical reference works, not yet further differentiated. Examples of these early publications include the French scholar C. Estienne’s Dictionarium historicum ac po-eticum (Paris, 1553, later translated into French) and L. Moreri’s popular Grand dictionnaire historique ou le Mélange curieux de I’histoire sainte et profane (Lyon, 1674).

Russia. In the 18th century the Russian historian V. N. Ta-tishchev compiled the Leksikon Rossiiskii istoricheskii, geografi-cheskii, politicheskii i grazhdanskii (Russian Historical, Geographic, Political, and Civil Lexicon, parts 1–3, St. Petersburg, 1793, up to the letter K). The Slovar’ istoricheskii (Historical Dictionary) was published in 14 parts between 1790 and 1798 (parts 1–3 appeared in a second edition between 1807 and 1811), containing biographies of historical figures “of all ages and peoples” as well as articles on some mythological persons, for the most part translated from French historical dictionaries but with supplementary articles on Russian historical figures. Many biographical dictionaries of all types were published in Russia in the 19th and early 20th century. Of these, the only general historical dictionary was S. A. Kareeva’s concise Shkol’nyi istoricheskii slovar’ (Historical Dictionary for Schools, Moscow, 1906), edited by N. I. Kareev.

Soviet Union. The first Marxist general historical encyclopedia was the Sovetskaia istoricheskaia entsiklopediia (editor in chief E. M. Zhukov; vols. 1–15—, Moscow, 1961–74—). This work gives information on the history of all the peoples of the world from ancient times to the present. It deals extensively with the history of the peoples of the USSR and of the other socialist countries and with the history of the revolutionary and national liberation movements. The greatest attention is devoted to Soviet society and to the post-October period of world history. Not only European but also Asian, African, and Latin American history is well covered in the encyclopedia, and an important place is occupied by problems of historiography, with special articles and historiographical essays. The encyclopedia contains maps, illustrations, and detailed chronological and other reference tables.

Other historical reference works of an encyclopedic character published in the USSR include G. E. Kochin’s Materialy dlia terminologicheskogo slovaria drevnei Rossii (Materials for a Terminological Dictionary of Ancient Russia, Moscow-Leningrad, 1937), listing terms found in chronicles, documents, and other written sources of ancient Rus’ and indicating precisely where each term is found; G. A. Maksimov’s concise Spravochnyi slovar’po istorii srednikh vekov (Reference Dictionary for the History of the Middle Ages, Tashkent, 1952), designed for correspondence courses; and the small encyclopedia Velikaia Oktiabr’skaia sotsialisticheskaia revoliutsiia (The Great October Socialist Revolution, 1968). The Diplomaticheskii slovar’ (Diplomatic Dictionary, vols. 1–2, 1948–50; 2nd ed., vols. 1–3, Moscow, 1960–64) also contains much historical material.

Foreign countries. The best-known foreign general encyclopedias and dictionaries include A. L. d’Harmonville’s Dictionnaire des dates, des faits, des lieux et des hommes historiques (vols. 1–2, Paris, 1842-13), covering the period from ancient times to the 19th century and dealing with political history and the history of culture, religion, and the church; K. Hermann’s Lexikon der allgemeinen Weltgeschichte (Leipzig, 1882), also devoted to world history from ancient times but dealing in an especially detailed manner with the period from the 16th to the 19th centuries; Everyman’s Dictionary of Dates (5th ed., revised by A. Butler, London-New York, 1967; 1st ed., 1911), embracing the period from ancient times to the 1960’s and containing primarily articles on specific events, concepts, and geographical names; the multivolume encyclopedia published in the USA entitled The New larned History for Ready Reference, Reading and Research (vols. 1–12, Springfield, Mass. 1922–24; 1st ed., vols. 1–5, 1893–95); and E. Bayer’s Worterbuch zur Geschichte (2nd ed., Stuttgart, 1965; 1st ed., 1960), explaining approximately 5,500 concepts and terms, chiefly relating to the history of European countries but excluding material on specific events, localities, and individuals.

Many historical encyclopedias and dictionaries are devoted to the history of particular historical periods. A noteworthy work on the history of primitive society is the large German dictionary Reallexikon der Vorgeschichte (vols. 1–15, Berlin, 1924—32), with contributions by scholars from various countries and edited by the German archaeologist M. Ebert. Richly illustrated, it offers material on archaeology, anthropology, paleoethnogra-phy, and linguistics from ancient times to the early Middle Ages. There are also numerous specialized dictionaries on archaeology.

An important encyclopedic reference work on the history of the classical world is the Dictionnaire des antiquités grecques et romaines (edited by C. Daremberg and E. Saglio, vols. 1–5, Paris, 1877–1929), which thoroughly explores the history of ancient Greece and Rome but excludes biographical material. It deals with the history of customs, institutions, the economic structure, everyday life, religion, science, art, and naval affairs. Another especially important encyclopedia in this field is the multivolume Paulys Real-Encyclopadie der classischen Altertum-swissenschaft (new edition begun by G. Wissowa and edited by W. Kroll, K. Mittelhaus, and K. Ziegler; first series [R–Z] vols. 1–24; 2nd series [R-Z], vols. 1–9; supplementary vols. 1–12—; Stuttgart, 1893–1970—). The Pauly-Wissowa is a basic reference book treating all aspects of the study of antiquity and containing many articles written by leading scholars together with an extensive bibliography. A shorter dictionary of ancient history is F. Liibker’s Reallexikon des klassischen Altertums (Russian translation, St. Petersburg-Moscow, 1888).

Considerably fewer historical encyclopedias and dictionaries are devoted to the Middle Ages or to modern and contemporary history. Noteworthy are H. E. Wedeck’s Concise Dictionary of Medieval History (New York, 1964), consisting of short articles on medieval history from the fifth to the 15th century; W. Herbst’s Enzyklopadie der neueren Geschichte (vols. 1–5, Gotha, 1880–90), covering the 16th-19th centuries; and A. W. Palmer’s Dictionary of Modern History, 1798–1945 (London, 1962), devoted primarily to political history, but also including socioeconomic and cultural history.

Among regional historical reference works are cultural-historical encyclopedias and dictionaries devoted to the early Middle Ages, such as the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Stownik starozytności stowiańskich (Dictionary of Slavic Antiquities, edited by W. Kowalenski; Wroclaw, vols. 1–4—, 1961–70—) and the German Reallexikon dergermanischen Altertumskunde (edited by J. Hoops; vols. 1–4, Strasbourg, 1911–19), of which a new, revised, and greatly expanded edition began to be published in 1968. Of considerable interest is the multivolume Kulturhis-torisk Lexikon for nordisk Middelalder (vols. 1–15—, Copenhagen 1956–1970—), devoted to the history and culture of the Scandinavian countries from the Viking period to the Reformation. The Encyclopédic d’Islam (vols. 1–4, Leiden-Paris, 191336; new ed., vols 1–3—, Leiden-Paris, 1960–71—, published in several languages) is one of the best regional encyclopedias on the countries of the East, with contributions by scholars from various countries. It not only provides information on political history but also deals extensively with the ideology and culture of the Muslim countries and with ethnology and geography. M. Martin and G. Lovett’s Encyclopedia of Latin American History (Indianapolis-New York, 1968) is intended for the general reader.

There are many historical encyclopedias and dictionaries devoted to the history of particular countries. The Diccionario histórico argentino (vols. 1–6, Buenos Aires, 1953–54), edited by R. Piccirilli, covers the period down to the mid-20th century. S. Low and F. S. Pulling’s Dictionary of English History (new ed., London-New York, 1928; first ed., 1884), J. A. Brendon’s Dictionary of British History (London, 1937), and Steinberg’s Dictionary of British History (2nd ed., London, 1970; first ed., 1963, edited by S. Steinberg and J. H. Evans) contain information on history from ancient times but treat most thoroughly the history of England. Brendon’s dictionary lacks biographies and material on the history of culture.

The Sachwörterbuch der Geschichte Deutschlands und der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung (vols. 1–2, Berlin, 1969–70), published in the German Democratic Republic, embraces the period from the late 18th century to the 1960’s. H. Rossler and G. Franz’ Biographisches Wörterbuch zur deutschen Geschichte (Munich, 1952–53) and Sachwörterbuch zur deutschen Geschichte (Munich, 1958) cover not only the history of Germany but also that of a number of other countries and have a reactionary-nationalist orientation. The Diccionario de historia de Espana (2nd ed., vols. 1–3, Madrid, 1968–69; first ed., 1952) encompasses the history of Spain from ancient times to 1968 and the history of the Spanish colonies in America. The Italian Dizio-nario del Risorgimento nazionale… Fatti e persone (vols. 1–4, Milan, 1930–37), edited by M. Rossi, contains articles on Italian history from the 18th century to 1870. The first volume covers separate events and the second, third, and fourth volumes contain biographies of men of the Risorgimento. T. Łepkowski’s Stownik historii Polski (Dictionary of the History of Poland, 5th ed., Warsaw, 1969; first ed„ 1959) includes about 2,500 articles on Polish history from ancient times to the 1960’s. The Dicionário de história de Portugal (Ilustradd) (vols. 1–4, Lisbon, 1961–70), edited by J. Serrão, covers the history of Portugal from ancient times to the mid-20th century.

The Dictionary of American History (vols. 1–6, New York, 1940–61), edited by J. T. Adams, is devoted to the political, socioeconomic, and cultural history of the USA from the Middle Ages (the Scandinavian voyages to America) to the 1930’s, excluding biographies; the sixth (supplementary) volume deals with the history of the USA from 1940 to 1960. The United States Encyclopedia of History (vols. 1–16, Philadelphia-New York, 1967–68) covers the period from Columbus’ discovery of America to the mid-20th century. It is intended for the general reader and is richly illustrated. L. Lalanne’s Dictionnaire his-torique de la France (2nd ed., Paris, 1877; first ed., 1872) contains detailed information on various problems of French history from ancient times to the 1870’s, including historical geography and genealogy. A number of dictionaries are devoted to the Great French Revolution, notably E. Boursin and A. Chal-lamel’s Dictionnaire de la Revolution francaise: Institutions, hommes et faits (Paris, 1893) and the Dictionnaire historique et biographique de la Revolution et de TEmpire, 1789–1815 (vols. 1–2, Paris, 1898), edited by J. F. E. Robinet and others. The illustrated Dictionnaire historique et biographique de la Suisse (vols. 1–7, Neuchâtel, 1921–33; with an edition in German), edited by M. Godet, H. Tiirler, and V. Attiger, contains more than 22,000 articles on the history of Switzerland from ancient times to the 1930’s.


Kaufman, I. M. Slovari i entsiklopedii: Bibliograficheskii ukazatel, issue 1: Dorewliutsionnye izdaniia. Moscow, 1937.
Zischka, G. Index Lexicorum: Bibliographie der lexikalischen Nachs-chtagewerke. Vienna, 1959.
Hepworth, P. How to Find Out in History. Oxford, 1966.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Historical encyclopedias and dictionaries are often of dubious value: too limited for the specialist, too random in their coverage for the student and layman, and almost invariably rapidly out of date.
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