What Was the Encyclopedia?

The Nail Makers / Moreau

The Encyclopedia (Encyclopédie, ou, Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers) was a massive compendium of the sciences, arts, and trades. It was the greatest literary achievement of 18th-century Europe.

Published in France over a period of 25 years beginning in 1751, the Encyclopedia included 17 volumes of text and 11 volumes of engravings. It emphasized skepticism, rationalism, and scientific inquiry and attempted to classify and disseminate all existing human knowledge. Its more than 72,000 articles cover a huge range of topics, from agriculture to woman. Many of its contributors were important Englightenment thinkers, including Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Denis Diderot.

This drawing by artist Jean-Michel Moreau le jeune served as the basis for one of the many technological illustrations in the Encyclopedia. In a nail maker's workshop, one man heats iron rods in the forge while the others pound the rods on anvils to shape nails.