Collections and Resources, Exhibits, Literary, Rare Book Collection, Special Collections

Encyclopedic Impulse Exhibition Examines the Quest to Organize Knowledge

encyclopedic_flierThe Encyclopedic Impulse
On view in the Melba Remig Saltarelli Exhibit Room
Wilson Special Collections Library
Feb. 27 – May 26, 2013

The human desire to assemble and organize the world’s information is the inspiration for The Encyclopedic Impulse, an exhibition at UNC’s Wilson Special Collections Library.

The exhibition marks the three-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Denis Diderot, editor and principal author of the great eighteenth-century Encyclopédie, which sought to bring together and disseminate the world’s knowledge. Visitors to the exhibition can see multiple volumes of the Encyclopédie from the Rare Book Collection.

Other materials will explore the process of defining and compiling knowledge and the literal translation of “encyclopedia” from the Greek as a “circle of learning.” Publications on view will include an early printed edition of Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, the ancient text often identified as the first encyclopedic work; writings on knowledge by scientist, philosopher, and statesman Francis Bacon, a contemporary of Shakespeare; Athanasius Kircher’s Turris Babel (1679); and Pierre Bayle’s Projet et fragmens d’un dictionaire critique (1692), a forerunner of the Encyclopédie.

The exhibition will also probe how encyclopedias relate to other reference works, such as Samuel Johnson’s 1755 Dictionary of the English Language, and to one another. The famous 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica will be on view, as well as encyclopedias from Germany, China, and Spain.

Twentieth-century works including H. G. Wells’s The Idea of a World Encyclopedia (1936); Jorge Luis Borges’s Library of Babel (1943); and Luigi Serafini’s Codex Seraphinianus (1981) will reflect on the concept of the encyclopedia.

For hours and exhibition information, contact the Wilson Special Collections Library, (919) 962-3765 or

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