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Dictionary Project: Volume X, Day 1

In the beginning were the Heavens and the Earth. That’s a paraphrase of the Bible, and perhaps because that’s how the Bible starts, The Dictionary does, too.

The Dictionary is The Century Dictionary and Cylopedia, a twelve-volume set printed in New York in 1901, and lovingly cared for by at least two previous owners over the 113 years before it came into my care in September 2014. The Dictionary Project will share information from one volume per month, from October 1, 2014 to September 30, 2015 (gods willing and the creek don’t rise). The volumes are numbered, so I’m starting in the tenth month, with Volume X: The Atlas.

This is a much-used Atlas, and it pleases me that this should be so. I love maps, and the Atlas was always my favourite school textbook. I open this Atlas and imagine a wealthy urban American family (who else could have afforded such a set?) with several children, all receiving their early education at home, from tutors, governesses, and specialized masters, in that period between publication and the First World War. History and geography require that they refer to this book often. Perhaps it scarcely spends any time on the shelf with the other members of the set, so frequently is it needed. Perhaps, if their schoolroom has such a thing, this book lives on a proper bookstand, open for most of every day, and closed to mark the end of daily lessons.

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