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"Conceptions of Race in the Encyclopedia Britannica"


In March of 2012, the Encyclopedia Britannica ceased printing paper editions of its handsomely bound reference books. The Encyclopedia Britannica, first published in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1768, remains the oldest English language encyclopedia in continuous production, but it will only be updated through its online offering in the following years. In the era of community based online encyclopedias like Wikipedia, now is an interesting time to reflect on the content of the complete print run of the Encyclopedia Britannica. This also represents an interesting moment to reflect on how past systems of defining general knowledge has worked to shape societal prejudices, beliefs, and assumptions. At this early stage of our research, this project will use techniques related to large scale text analysis through Natural Language Processing (NLP) to chart and track the evolution of popular conceptions of race and racialization across all 15 editions of the encyclopedia released over its 244 year history.