George Washington understood the value of owning a comprehensive encyclopedia. "As the Encyclopaedia might be useful, to have by me," Washington explained in a September 1797 letter to Clement Biddle, the manager of his Philadelphia business affairs, "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 ordered 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 mobile and accessible than they were in the late eighteenth century. However, the utility provided by an encyclopedia remains strikingly similar. Encyclopedias have traditionally provided digestible yet comprehensive descriptions of events, people, places and objects, often supported by visual documentation. Modern, digital encyclopedias have similar agendas. The delivery system, however, has changed.
The George Washington Digital Encyclopedia aims to bridge these two encyclopedic values: to inform, educate, and engage while utilizing the web as a vibrant medium to allow visitors 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 project has benefited considerably from the talents and dedication of an impressive group of scholars of varying experience, backgrounds, and historical fields. Mount Vernon is indebted for their hard work, creativity, and willingness to contribute. Contributors have helped create a database of information related to Washington's life, career, and home. However, given the depth of Washington's ever-changing life and legacy as young man, planter, military hero, President and cultural icon, this resource will be constantly growing.
Topic suggestions are always welcomed, as are any other questions about the project. Hopefully you will find this resource as useful and compelling as Washington believed was possible with his own set of encyclopedias.
1. "George Washington to Clement Biddle, September 6, 1797"
2. "George Washington to Clement Biddle, August 14, 1797"
How to Cite Encyclopedia Articles:
[Enty Author]. [Entry Title]. [Access Date]. In George Washington Digital Encyclopedia. Retrieved from [Entry URL].
Chicago Manual of Style Citation:
[Entry Author]. "[Entry Title]." In George Washington Digital Encyclopedia, edited by Joseph F. Stoltz III. Mount Vernon Estate, 2012–. [Entry URL].
[Entry Author]. "[Entry Title]." George Washington Digital Encyclopedia. Mount Vernon Estate. Web. [Access Date].