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The Coverage of Pollution in Historic Encyclopedias


Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Jung, Jewon
Term Paper, AP World History Class, June 2009



Table of Contents


I. Introduction
II. Context and Definition
III. Method of Comparison
IV. Pollution-Related Entries in Encyclopedias
IV.1 Meyers 1885
IV.2 Brockhaus 1894
IV.3 Britannica 1902
IV.4 Funk and Wagnalls 1931
V. Degree of Environmental Awareness
VI. Cause and Effect Addressed
VI.1 Meyers 1885
VI.2 Brockhaus 1894
VI.3. Britannica 1902
VI.4. Funk & Wagnalls 1931
VII. Preventive Measures Taken
VII.1 Brockhaus 1894
VII.2 Britannica 1902
VIII. Conclusion
Notes
Bibliography



I. Introduction
            Environmental activism is still a relatively new term in history. Internationally acclaimed environmental organizations such as Greenpeace were not established until the 1970s (1), and Rachel Carson's enlightening Silent Spring was only published in 1962. (2) However, pollution still made a major impact on the lives of people in the eighteenth century. The progression of industrialization, which began in Britain in the late 18th century, and the urbanization and the emergence of crowded cities meant more smokestacks, coal burning, and noxious fumes released into the atmosphere. Several encyclopedias cite the prevalence of lung cancer caused by these toxic fumes, as early as the 19th century.
            Because encyclopedias represent the collective knowledge of society at the time the books were published, they can be analyzed to find out whether or not environmental concerns were a priority at the time, and the extent to which people knew about pollution, its causes, and its effects. This paper will compare and contrast four major encyclopedias to examine several issues: the degree of environmental awareness of the 19th century, whether people knew about the causes and effects of pollution, and whether any preventive measures were taken.
            The following are the four encyclopedias used: Meyers Konversationslexikon, 1885-1892 edition, in German; Brockhaus Konversationslexikon, 1894-1896 edition, in German; Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1902 edition (10th edition); and Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Encyclopedia of Universal Knowledge, 1931.

II. Context and Definition
            Before moving on to the analysis of the various encyclopedias, it is important to establish the context of the time period in which the encyclopedias were written. As mentioned above, the Industrial Revolution took place mainly during the 1800s and the 1900s. From Great Britain, the rapid use of technology and manufacturing spread to the United States, to other European countries, then to Asia and Eastern European countries (3). Because gasoline only became a common energy source at a later time, the common pollutant of the nineteenth century is coal particles (4). Also, because the problem of coal particles in the air is the main type of pollution during this time period, 'pollution' should be taken to mean 'air pollution.'

III. Method of Comparison
            Several keywords were searched for per encyclopedia. The words include 'pollution', 'environment', 'chimney', 'chimney sweep', 'lung disease', 'cancer', and 'smoke'. For the German encyclopedias (Meyers and Brockhaus) the terms 'Verschmutzung', 'Schornstein', 'Schornsteinfeger', 'Lungenkranheit', 'Krebs', and 'Rauch' were used instead respectively. After translating the German articles into English (using online translators), the articles were compared and contrasted. The lack of articles was taken into consideration as well.

IV. Pollution-related entries in encyclopedias

IV.1 Meyers 1885
            Meyers Konversationslexikon did not have any entries directly related to air pollution. The searches for the key terms mentioned above yielded nothing except articles on heating, chimneys, railroads, cancer, and lung disease. These articles did not mention anything about pollution nor did they shed light on the effects of pollution. The articles on heating, chimneys, and railroads were mostly about the mechanism and the apparatus.

IV.2 Brockhaus 1894
            Brockhaus Konversationslexikon yielded more information about air pollution than did Meyers. The keyword searches led to articles on stoves, chimneys, smoke prevention, ventilation, and dust inhalation illnesses. Though the entries about stoves and chimneys were more about the methods and the technology used, they also included information about the harmful effects of smoke and coal residue. For example, about stoves, the encyclopedia states, "questionably, in small rooms generally it is dangerous for health." (5) The articles about smoke prevention, ventilation, and dust inhalation illnesses most directly address the problems of air pollution and also offer some solutions as to how the harmful effects should be addressed.

IV.3 Britannica 1902
            Britannica did not yield as many articles upon pollution-related terms as Brockhaus did, but had far more in-depth and pertinent articles than either Brockhaus or Meyers. Britannica did not have any articles on cancer, lung disease, or chimney-sweeps. However, the English encyclopedia had articles titled, Climate; Smoke and Fogs; Death Rate and Birth Rate; Marriage Rate, smoke abatement, and hygiene. The first article actually analyzed the correlation between the persistence of smogs and respiratory diseases such as asthma and bronchitis. (6) The article on smoke abatement also comments about "the nuisance created by coal smoke." (7) Meanwhile, the entry on 'hygiene' not only addresses the to-be-expected air pollution but also the water pollution problem. (8)

IV.4 Funk and Wagnalls 1931
            Funk and Wagnalls was the latest and most up-to-date encyclopedia published among the four names compared, with a copyright date of 1931. Yet, the series had the least information about pollution or the environment. Though there was an entry titled ¡®environment¡¯, it was only a very simple definition of five lines: "a modern term for the influencing surroundings or external circumstances, taken collectively, of an organism. See Evolution." (9) The information regarding pollution was scant and on par with Meyers.

V. Degree of Environmental Awareness
            Among Meyers, Brockhaus, Britannica, and Funk and Wagnalls, Britannica was the most environmentally enlightening encyclopedia. The critical analysis of the effect of coal burning and lung diseases was more comprehensive in Britannica than it was in Brockhaus. For instance, it is stated in Britannica that "during the fogs of 1879-80 asthma increased 220 percent and bronchitis 331 percent, and in the week ending February 13, 1882, the death-rate, owing to the dense fogs, rose from 27.1 in the previous week to 35.3, diseases of the respiratory organs rising to 994. The evil is mainly due to the smoke of domestic fireplaces." (10) Meanwhile, Brockhaus never effectively establishes the correlation between coal burning, smogs, and lung diseases.

VI. Cause and Effect Addressed

VI.1 Meyers 1885
            Two effects of pollution manifested in human lives is cancer and lung disease. Meyers included articles titled 'cancer' and 'lung disease.' Yet, the causes of such illnesses were not pollution. According to Meyers, "tumors" and "heredity" were the causes of cancer, not pollution. (11)Therefore, the causes and effects of pollution are not adequately addressed in this encyclopedia.

VI.2. Brockhaus 1894
            The smoke from stoves and chimneys is stated as the cause of health problems. In the article titled 'dust inhalation illnesses', workers in dust-filled environments such as paperhangers, glass grinders, glaziers, and chimney sweeps are mentioned. Due to translation complications, it is not clear whether the "dust" means coal residue or any particles in the air. However, coal is clearly an agent of disease. "Often if the lung takes by the concerning dust kind a very striking Ausfehen in; thus she appears with coal workers not seldom deeply blue-black ge-colors, hard and vacuous coal lung.." (12). Despite the syntax complications and errors, it can be discerned that coal dust was considered to cause lung diseases for coal miners and for chimney sweeps. It was known that air pollution caused lung diseases.

VI.3. Britannica 1902
            Britannica has the clearest understanding of the causes and effects of air pollution. As mentioned above, the encyclopedia cites statistics that point out the rising number of deaths along with the prevalence of fogs from coal residue in the air. Britannica underscores the detrimental effects of smoke and increasing fogs by stating that before the encyclopedia was written, in 1661, "the influence of smoke in increasing fogs and intensifying their evils seem not to have been appreciable." (13) The encyclopedia acknowledges that people now have a better understanding of the harms of coal burning and smoke.

VI.4. Funk and Wagnalls 1931
            No information is available. The issue of pollution itself is not addressed, so there can be no cause-effect analysis on Funk and Wagnalls.

VII. Preventive Measures Taken

VII.1 Brockhaus 1894
            Perhaps because Brockhaus acknowledged the dangers of smoke to human health, it has articles related to the mitigation of such pollution problems. Two are mentioned: ventilation and smoke prevention. The article on ventilation provides technical information about how to design pipes with less smoke. The information is probably not for the layman, but for technicians to follow. The article on smoke prevention is about "the prevention from threatens from smoke and soot from the chimneys" and concerns areas "where as a fuel material coal for the use comes, has in large quantities from the factory schornsteinen." (14) It provides more information about the harmful effects of coal and soot, and the advice given for smoke prevention is not sufficient for the layman to follow.

VII.2 Britannica 1902
            Britannica also provides an article about solving smoke-related problems called 'smoke abatement'. According to the article, in 1785 James Watt patented the first smoke-abating invention and in 1819, the English Parliament appointed a committee "to inquire how far persons using steam-engines and furnaces could erect them in a manner less prejudicial to public health and comfort." The article does not pinpoint factories as the cause of air-pollution, and instead points out that the polluters are households using coal for domestic use, since private houses far outnumber factories. Britannica may not support closing or limiting factories to limit coal burning and soot, because as proponents of national manufacturing and industrial production, the makers of the encyclopedia may not have wanted to slow the fervor of the Industrial Revolution.
            As for methods suggested for the "abolition of smoke", the encyclopedia suggests using better, improved appliances to burn coal or using some other source of energy as a fuel instead of simply using coal. Though the solutions mentioned are not practical, they have led to the development of the modern-day "alternative energy sources" and "fuel-efficient technology."

VIII. Conclusion
            Meyers Konversationslexikon (1885-1892), Brockhaus Konversationslexikon (1894-1896), Encyclopaedia Britannica (1902), and Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Encyclopedia of Universal Knowledge (1931) all display different perceptions about pollution despite having been published in the 19th century and the early 20th century. Funk and Wagnalls shows the least environmentally-conscious view; Meyers fares a bit better; Brockhaus shows understanding of the cause and effect of air pollution and also provides some solutions to the pollution problem; Britannica is the most environmentally-aware encyclopedia, but it tends to favor industrial production before environmental protection. Overall, however, through the analysis of the four encyclopedias it can be discerned that environmental concerns had pervaded the minds of people even during the early 19th century.


Notes

(1)      http://www.greenpeace.org/international/about/history
(2)      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_Spring
(3)      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Revolution
(4)      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel
(5)      http://www.retrobibliothek.de/retrobib/seite.html?id=132118
(6)      http://www.1902encyclopedia.com/L/LON/london-14.html
(7)      http://www.1902encyclopedia.com/S/SMO/smoke-abatement.html
(8)      http://www.1902encyclopedia.com/H/HYG/hygiene.html
(9)      Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Encyclopedia of Universal Knowledge. Copyright date 1931.
(10)      http://www.1902encyclopedia.com/L/LON/london-14.html
(11)      http://www.retrobibliothek.de/retrobib/seite.html?id=109807
(12)      http://www.retrobibliothek.de/retrobib/seite.html?id=135025
(13)      http://www.1902encyclopedia.com/L/LON/london-14.html
(14)      http://www.retrobibliothek.de/retrobib/seite.html?id=133279


Bibliography

Note : websites quoted below were visited in June 2009.


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