October 22, 2012
George Washington understood the value of owning a comprehensive encyclopedia. Washington explained as much in a September 1797 letter to Clement Biddle, the manager of his Philadelphia business affairs, writing: “As the Encyclopaedia might be useful, to have by me…I would…request Mr. Dobson to have all that are published, neatly bound and sent to me.”1 Washington was so enamored with the possibilities provided by an encyclopedia that he ended up ordering two sets of Philadelphia printer Thomas Dobson’s Encyclopedia, or A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Miscellaneous Literature. Washington’s motives in ordering two sets were both ideological and practical. On one hand, Washington wanted to “encourage” Dobson’s “undertaking the work.” In addition, Washington had already given away one set of the encyclopedia and desired a bound copy for his own library.2
Luckily technological advancements have ensured that encyclopedias have become far more engaging and accessible than they were in the late eighteenth century. However, the utility provided by an encyclopedia remains strikingly similar. With this in mind, Mount Vernon is happy to announce the public launch of the Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington, a new digital history project that allows users to interact and explore primary source materials and objects from the Mount Vernon collection. Entries focus on the totality of Washington’s life and experiences, while also covering the Mount Vernon Estate, its history, and preservation. The encyclopedia includes entries written by Mount Vernon staff and experts, as well as a team of more than thirty outside scholars of history and related fields. The encyclopedia can be found at http://www.mountvernon.org/encyclopedia, and we hope that its resources help encourage others to undertake further study of Washington and his world.
Adam D. Shprintzen, Ph.D.
Editor/Project Coordinator, Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington