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How to Use The Columbia Encyclopedia

The Columbia Encyclopedia is easy to use. All articles are arranged alphabetically with each article heading in boldface type. The headings of biographical articles are inverted and alphabetized by the subject's surname, with the exception of articles on some historical figures. Thus, William Faulkner appears as Faulkner, William, but Joan of Arc is listed as Joan of Arc.

The problem of alphabetizing names that include de, van, von, and the like has been resolved by employing as the heading the most commonly used form of the name. Accordingly, the composer Ludwig van Beethoven is entered as Beethoven, Ludwig van, while the painter Vincent Van Gogh is under Van Gogh, Vincent, with a cross-reference from Gogh, Vincent Van.

M', Mc, and Mac are listed as if they were spelled Mac. Thus the political leader McAdoo, William Gibbs, precedes the Scottish king Macbeth, who precedes the U.S. Secretary of Defense McNamara, Robert Strange. All three therefore precede Madonna. In each instance it is the letter or letters after the Mc or Mac that determine the alphabetical order. Exceptions to this rule are African names beginning with M'; they are listed in strict alphabetical order: M'Ba, Mbandaka, M'Bour, Mdina, etc.

Abbreviations are alphabetized as though they were spelled out (e.g., St. is alphabetized as Saint). Therefore, the heading St. Clair, Arthur is listed before Saint Clair, Lake, which precedes St. Denis, Ruth and the Dutch island Saint Eustatius. Again, in each case the first letter of the word after Saint determines the alphabetical order.

When two or more articles have the same heading, entries are alphabetized by category: persons, places, and things. Thus, if one were to look for an article heading with the name Chicago, Chicago, Judy (person) would precede Chicago, city (place), and that would precede Chicago, University of (thing). The order of entry for persons of the same name is determined by rank: saints, popes, emperors, kings, followed by titled nobility, such as crown prince, duke or count, baron, baronet, and so forth. Monarchs of the same name are listed numerically and alphabetically by country: Charles X, king of France, appears before Charles III, king of Naples, who in turn precedes Charles III, king of Spain.

Within some articles in The Columbia Encyclopedia, related material is introduced by subheadings in smaller boldface type. For example, in the article antiparticle there is a description of antimatter. The main heading contempt contains two boldface subheadings: contempt of court and contempt of Congress. If a reader wishes to have information on any one of these subheadings, it can be found directly without reading the entire article.

This method is also used for family articles. The Bach family article contains subheadings for seven members; three of these are cross-references to separate articles on Johann Sebastian Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, and Johann Christian Bach.

Boldface numbers are also used in some multiple entries. For example, when several U.S. cities have the same name, they are listed alphabetically by state in a single article: Jacksonville. 1 City (1990 pop. 29,101), Pulaski co., central Ark. 2 City (1990 pop. 635,230), consolidated (since 1968) with Duval co., NE Fla. 3 City (1990 pop. 19,324), seat of Morgan co., W central Ill. 4 City (1990 pop. 30,013), seat of Onslow co., E N.C.

Because space is limited in a single-volume encyclopedia, information provided in one article is generally not repeated in another. Instead, cross-references are used extensively in the text to guide the reader to various articles containing related material. References to those headings are printed in small capitals. An example of this system may be found in the article environmentalism, which has the following definition: movement to protect the quality and continuity of life through conservation of natural resources, prevention of pollution, and control of land use. All the articles mentioned in small capitals are in the encyclopedia and provide additional information; when read together, they will give the reader a basic understanding of this particular subject. There are many names mentioned in articles that are not indicated as cross-references, but this does not necessarily mean that there are no separate articles on these persons in the encyclopedia. Cross-references are used only as a means of suggesting that there is further information about the subject matter.

Cross-referencing makes an index in The Columbia Encyclopedia unnecessary. Some boldface entries are cross-references directing the reader to appropriate headings (yeti: see abominable snowman). Others catalog references pertaining to a particular subject; for example, music provides some 70 cross-references while instructing the reader how to locate specific information: music. For information on types of music, see such articles as absolute music; aleatory music; chamber music; church music. … In addition, see entries on the music of various nations and peoples, including African music; Arabian music; Balinese music… and Jewish liturgical music… , etc.

An additional aid to the reader is the bibliography that appears at the end of many articles. These books have been selected to enable the reader to expand his or her knowledge on a subject that cannot be treated at great length in a short-entry encyclopedia and, indeed, cannot be treated comprehensively in any encyclopedia. In order to save space not all books have been identified by title. Instead, the kind of work and the author are given; the author's given names may be replaced by initials. For example, at the end of the article on the American author Ralph Waldo Emerson there are bibliographic references to his letters, edited by R. L. Rusk and E. M. Tilton, and several biographies and studies, including ones by G. W. Allen and J. Porte. Although no specific titles are given, such works may be found without difficulty by consulting the catalog of a library.

Pronunciations have been provided for headings consisting of unfamiliar names or scientific terms; for many foreign names both native and anglicized pronunciations are shown.

In order to conserve space, many abbreviations are used in the text.


The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright 2012, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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