Saturday, December 8, 2007


"Encyclopedia Studies," the show currently at Atlanta's Beep Beep Gallery, consists of photographic overlays created from the illustrations beginning with "A" in the 1957 World Book encyclopedia.

That was a year when the 1957 Book of the Year published in 1958 would have been as important as the encyclopedia. Airplanes outweighed Africa, as has been observed, in part because the runup to decolonization was not amenable to encyclopedization. Ghana independence was as big a story as Sputnik. And the decolonizing floodgates were open; within a year, the French Community was formally free, with Guinea declining de Gaulle's offers of a sort of commonwealth, and going it alone.

So between the sudden birth of independent countries and the birth of the Space Age, the 1958 and 1959 editions of the World Book faced visual updating, big time. It would be interesting to compare entries and see if pictures kept pace with text, and if text kept pace with history.

1956 had seemingly solidified the postwar world with the failure of the East European revolutions. Sudan's path to independence, and Morocco's, would have been noted in the 1957 book, maybe. But with Tangier reverting in October '56 and Moroccan independence only happening in April '56, it's more likely that the text edited in 1955 and the pictures chosen even earlier would have stayed put.

Good to have images of how a world about to change beyond recognition was being presented. It would be intriguing to jump ahead to the entries for "French Indochina," which had ceased to exist in 1954 so the existence of North and South Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia would have had to be dealt with on some visual level.

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