ASIS&T 2014 Annual Meeting 
Seattle, WA | October 31 - November 5, 2014

The materiality of encyclopedic information: Remediating a loved one – Mourning Britannica

Jutta Haider, Olof Sundin
Lund University, Sweden

Sunday, Nov. 2, 3:30pm


This paper presents a qualitative thematic analysis of reader comments (n= 547) posted in connection to a series of articles published after Encyclopaedica Britannica’s announcement to forego its print edition. It shows how ideas of what information is, are entangled with ideas of what a certain medium is and does. Two research questions guide the analysis: 1) How are encyclopedias as information sources imagined in contemporary public discourse? 2) How does the materiality of encyclopedias shape ideas of knowledge, information and memory? A theoretical basis is the distinction between an epistemological discourse and a practice discourse of science as proposed by Bernd Frohmann. Furthermore, the concept of remediation as developed by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin is drawn on. The analysis maps out different functions encyclopedias as information sources and external memories are assigned in contemporary society and in the recent past. It shows how these functions go into one another and how they are entangled with certain social practices. Through this it makes visible how understandings of information at a personal level are entwined with ideas of materiality, technologies, and culture that are formed in conjuncture with larger historical and societal shifts.