It’s been a LONG while since we talked about a dictionary or encyclopedia on the blog, so today seems as good a time as any to bring up the topic of reference manuals for the home. Specifically, The Domestic Encyclopaedia; or, A Dictionary of Facts and Useful Knowledge, Comprehending a Concise View of the Latest Discoveries, Inventions, and Improvements, Chiefly Applicable to Rural and Domestic Economy, published in 1803. There’s actually even more to the formal title: Together with Descriptions of the Most Interesting Objects of Nature and Art; The History of Men and Animals, in a State of Health or Disease; and Practical Hints Respecting the Arts and Manufactures, both Familiar and Commercial. (You really have to love those 19th century titles that contained every detail about the publication–at least you know what you’re in for!) It was originally published in London, but ours is an American edition that includes, as noted on the title page, “Additions applicable to the present situation of the United States.” We don’t know for sure what the American editor added Even more specifically, we’re going to look at Volume IV. Why, you ask? Because Volume IV is the only one we are lucky enough to have here.
This volume covers M-Sn (Mace-Snowdrops, in fact!). The pages from the index show you just how widely “rural and domestic economy” is defined. The entry for “roaster” is more than 5 pages long, including a history along with illustrations of different models and uses. Other entries, like the one for “red-ink” are short enough to fit several on a page. The topics vary from cooking ingredients to farming implements to diseases to geographical elements. While not too common, there are more pictures than one might expect for a dense reference book, some large enough to merit a whole page! But make no mistake, this is a text heavy series for those in search of an educated perspective.
You can view a pdf of the book in its entirety online through the University Libraries. And luckily, the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Digital Collections has all five volumes online for your reading and reference pleasure. The NLM collection includes not only digitized books, but also videos, relating to biomedical history. I also want to take one last moment to point out another new online resource: the USDA National Agricultural Library’s Historical Dietary Guidance Digital Collection (HDGDC). It’s brand new this week and features “over 900 historical and contemporary federal dietary guidance publications.” This new resource is a subset of materials in the National Agricultural Library Digital Collections, which as additional digital publications relating to agricultural history. Any and all of these resources are worth a few minutes of browsing when you have a chance, whether for research, fun, or both!