Obsolete encyclopedias | Opinion of the applicant

Cornejo’s “Commonwealth Directory of the Philippines” (1939) is the thickest book in my library, its width at 4.5 inches or 11 centimeters. Elegantly bound in red with a gold stamp, the 2,626-page volume was Google for the pre-war generation. Weighing 4.15 kilos, I used Cornejo more as a doorstop than a desk reference. When consulted, it is a mine of useless information for this topic.

Printed encyclopedias, like manual typewriters, are curiosities in the digital age. Once upon a time, before Google, the print edition “Encyclopedia Britannica” ran for 244 years until it threw in the towel and went live after its 2010 edition. With 32 volumes and 32 ​640 pages, Britannica occupied a prominent place on the shelves, but not as much as its Spanish equivalent, the 72-volume “Enciclopedia universal ilustrada europea-americana”, better known as “Espasa” (for its publisher Espasa -Calpe), whose individual volumes were thicker than the PLDT telephone directory. I discovered “Espasa” because of its comprehensive Filipino entries provided by the learned gentleman Alfonso T. Ongpin, whose father Roman Ongpin is honored by the famous street that runs through Binondo. “Espasa” started as a Filipiniana reference, a way to learn and practice Spanish. It became my portal to the Hispanic world. Going through “Espasa”, I realized how my generation was separated from the past and the old world because of the language. It also made me appreciate our lost Hispanic heritage, 333 years of history portrayed as the Dark Ages in contrast to the Enlightenment and Renaissance that was in the American Colonial period. Carmen Guerrero Nakpil said it best: The Philippines has spent 400 years in a convent and 50 years in Hollywood.

Without a dedicated online Philippine encyclopedia, I have retained a number of voluminous outdated references, starting with Cornejo’s one-volume encyclopedia. I also have the third and latest edition of Zoilo Galang’s “Encyclopedia of the Philippines” (1950), a gift from Guillermo Tolentino’s widow. Galang has 20 volumes as follows: Vols. 1-2 Literature, Vol. 3-4 Biography, Vol. 5-6 Trade and Industry, Vol. 7-8 Art, Vol. 9 Education, vol. 10 Religion, vol. 11-12 Government and Politics, Vol. 13-14 Science, Vol. 15-16 History, Vol. 17-18 Builders and Vol. 19-20 General information. Although published post-war, much of the Third Edition’s content is pre-war with much reconstructed from material lost in the Battle of Manila in 1945.

I hardly use Galang, apart from the two volumes on Filipino art, as I prefer the 10 volume “Filipino Heritage: The Making of a Nation” (1978), an encyclopedia born out of a stillborn series of weekly supplements for The Manila Times which was shut down in 1972 by martial law. “Filipino Heritage” is profusely illustrated in color with scholarly yet accessible side stories and texts. Stellar is the only word to describe the people behind it: the editor was Alfredo Roces assisted by Carlos Quirino and Gilda Cordero Fernando who sent many contributors including Nick Joaquin, Lucrecia Kasilag, Jose Maceda and Alejandro Roces (later proclaimed artists National Scientists), and Teodoro A. Agoncillo (later proclaimed National Scientist). Ben Cabrera, artistic director of the first volume, is also a national artist. “Filipino Heritage” was so successful that it threatened Marcos’ “special research project” team, then compiled its own failed “Encyclopedia Filipiniana” and the multivolume “Tadhana: History of the Filipino People” which published under the signature of Ferdinand E. Marcos.

After “Filipino Heritage”, my favorite references are: the 10-volume “CCP Encyclopedia of Filipino Art” (first edition 1994, digital edition 2020) and the 10-volume Reader’s Digest “Kasaysayan: The History of the Filipino People “. “Originally priced at over P10,000 when it launched in 1998, it went on sale a decade later at P1,998 per set. “Kasaysayan” was the best and most readable history of the Philippines for its time. Full disclosure here, I contributed to “Kasaysayan”. Two decades ago, Gilda Cordero Fernando asked me if I was interested in a new edition of “Filipino Heritage” that would be updated with new volumes to bring the narrative up to Edsa 1986. None of that came out and in 2022 we urgently need it. an online Philippine encyclopedia to inform, entertain, and counter what we should properly call historical distortion or fake news, not revisionism.


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