Public Health in the Public’s Hands

The content in Denis Diderot’s Encyclopédie was not revolutionary. However, the structure, a collectivization of all subjects human knowledge into 28 volumes, was revolutionary. Diderot was not the first to publish in such a format, but his Encyclopédie became the most well-circulated and read. To ensure that he would reach a broader audience, Diderot wrote in French, which was known as the language of the common people, instead of the usual Latin. Additionally, the Anatomie section of the book was one of the first medical images available to people. Because of this effort, the Encyclopédie was banned initially by the Catholic Church in an attempt to suppress the sharing of academic knowledge.

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An image from the Anatomie section, one of the first of its kind.

The internet provides a parallel to printed encyclopedias today, giving common users greater access to a wide variety of topics. Therefore, our group will create a website that appeals to high school and college students interested in access to public health knowledge throughout the ages. The information will be in short blog post format to best interest the audience. Additionally, users will be able to suggest topics for future posts as well as write their own that will be reviewed and then hopefully published on our blog. This will ensure the creation of a community of users that is able to interact with and learn from one another.

The age of the Internet comes with many benefits, but a serious negative is that access to too much information can confuse searchers. This is especially prevalent today with the advent of websites such as Wikipedia or, in the medical field specifically, WebMD. The blog would provide a source of accurate information about a concentrated topic.

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Our website will focus on the access that people have had to public health information over time. We will divide our areas of focus into three categories of time: before Diderot’s time (pre-18th century), Diderot’s time, and post-Diderot’s time/today. We have already begun the process of finding articles and books through the Fondren library and its online resources. We hope to teach the evolution of the public’s access to health information while at the same time adding to the conversation by making this information easily accessible.

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2 thoughts on “Public Health in the Public’s Hands

  1. It really seems like Diderot’s Encyclopedia was a revolutionary development for bringing a wide breadth of modern human knowledge to the public. The internet has the potential to be used this way. I certainly think that Wikipedia is a comparable tool solely intended for broadcasting the latest knowledge to the public in a readable way (in many different languages). I think that while this may be the intention of a site like WebMD, the experience for many users is different, as you mention. WebMD seems to provide excess information that the public may misuse to diagnose themselves. I’m interested in how your blog might differ from this site in providing access to this knowledge? Isn’t the success of Wikipedia and the failures of WebMD related to how internet users apply such knowledge?

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  2. I especially liked the idea of you are going to parallel how Diderot’s Encyclopedia was accessible by people all over because it was written in French with the creation of a website. I feel that there is a sense of continuity by following a similar pattern of reaching to the masses. You mentioned how people can be confused by surplus of the Internet of information. How exactly do you plan on preventing this problem on your blog so that the information that you present won’t be categorized with the information that confuses others?

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