The Encyclopaedists couldn’t exist without Pliny the Fucking Elder, who set out, by himself, to record no less than the entirety of ancient knowledge:
"It is, indeed, no easy task to give novelty to what is old, and authority to what is new; brightness to what is become tarnished, and light to what is obscure; to render what is slighted acceptable, and what is doubtful worthy of our confidence; to give to all a natural manner, and to each its peculiar nature."
—Translation by John Bostock, 1855
Pliny wrote the Naturalis Historiae in less than ten years before dying in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D., which is a pretty badass way to die.
Centuries of encyclopaedists emulated his model, until Denis Diderot, chief editor of the French Encylcopédie, ushered in the multi-contributor format in the 1750s. Motherfucker knew you’d never cram all knowledge into one large work, but he thought an index of connections and interrelations might just fit. Problem was, Diderot’s Encyclopédie was also intended to make men “more virtuous and happy,” meaning it was French Enlightenment propaganda bullshit, with dozens of articles talking up Reason and trashing on monarchy.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica removed this component, striving for comprehensiveness and objectivity. And for nearly 250 years Britannica was the gold standard of racism, sexism, factual inaccuracies, and bourgeois-bias. The eleventh edition takes the cake, where one can’t read a page without stumbling on phrases like “Mentally, the negro is inferior to the white.”