The Encyclopédie: the 18th Century’s Internet

Our group’s project is to assess the importance of Denis Diderot’s Encyclopédie on health and medicine. More specifically, we are concerned about the anatomy section. Because the section is in French, our group decided to focus less on the actual book and more on its consequences. The purpose of our project is to analyze the advantages and disadvantages of the Encyclopédie‘s democratization of medical knowledge and relate our findings to our current age in which the internet plays an important role. We intend to use a website to showcase our findings because a website is the most common way people find information today. This relates to our archival material because in the 18th Century, people turned to books for the same purpose.


Anatomie made it easy for people to understand anatomy.

We want to target doctors and public officials in charge of dealing with public health. By informing our audience about the positive and negative aspects about making knowledge more accessible, we can help them make more effective choices regarding policy. For example, doctors and officials need to understand that posting warnings about disease on the internet can inform a society, but excessive or poorly thought out warnings can incite panic. By linking today’s choices to historical events, officials will have a better sense of what the best decision is and will do a better job of keeping society healthy.


Our project led us to our research topic because the Encyclopédie is one of the first instances in which common people gained access to knowledge that was previously reserved for the elite. Naturally, such a drastic change in the status quo was met with resistance, which led to the Encyclopédie’s ban. Today, misinformation is rampant because of the ease with which information can spread, and this complicates our understanding of public health. Instead of being a top-down system in which medical knowledge flows from researchers and scholars, the internet acts as a highway for information. For public health officials, finding a balance between the historical and current models of information transfer is of critical importance in promoting health.


Sites like WebMD make it easy to self-diagnose. However,such websites also allow people making an incorrect diagnosis.E

Because we are not using the anatomy section directly, our group will be researching the political, social, and health aspects of societies both in the 18th Century and in current society. We will be using books and articles that deal with specific time periods and issues so that we can get the details of each of these topics.


One thought on “The Encyclopédie: the 18th Century’s Internet

  1. Hi Saad, I find your project proposal very interesting in how it attempts to address both the positive and negative consequences of medical publicity. In answering these questions, I would ask: who had the authority to disseminate and give medical knowledge in the 18th century? Who does today? Did more people pay attention and are subsequently more affected by medical knowledge in the 18th century or more people are affected today? If so, why? I would be curious to see which parties have the power to affect the livelihoods and psychological wellbeing associated with maintaining good health.


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