Library Journal, October 2018
By Brian T. Sullivan
CONTENT Released in December 2017, this resource features more than 6,500 peer-reviewed entries on individuals who have contributed to the global history of thought and philosophy. Significantly, it broadens the canon by including previously overlooked figures and incorporating civil rights activists, novelists, poets, politicians, scientists, and others. Entries on philosophers John Dewey or David Hume are found alongside those on activist and abolitionist Sojourner Truth and feminist theologian Mary Daly. Thus, Bloomsbury examines the subject through lenses such as economics, law, medicine, literature, and theology, without neglecting traditional philosophy subfields.
Overseen by general editor John R. Shook (philosophy, Univ. at Buffalo), working with an editorial board of four other philosophers, the database’s initial release covers thinkers from North America, Britain, Ireland, and the Middle East (featuring a rich selection of Islamic philosophers over the past 1,400 years). New and revised content will be added twice a year at no extra charge to subscribers and will include individuals from Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
USABILITY In addition to performing basic queries, users can conduct advanced searches by title, author, abstract, and category (which includes subjects, topics, and people/place names). Researchers can also browse by subject, school of thought, period, and region and refine results by these categories. For instance, a search for “liberation theology” can be narrowed to include only people living in America during the 20th century. As of this writing, there are 52 subjects, 38 schools of thought, seven periods, and 43 regions.
While the prominently featured “timeline of thinkers,” which maps key philosophers to relevant events, is an excellent concept, the content is rather sparse. Perhaps with additional material, this section will be more valuable to serious researchers.
Each article is assigned a content type (currently, all appear to be biographical entries), a period, a region, and subjects, all of which are linked to additional database materials. Related content is also listed. Each article contains cross-references to other entries within the database, but it would be helpful if these links were more pronounced.
Helpful bibliography and further reading sections can be linked to an institution’s catalog or databases with a link resolver. Further reading suggestions could be more up-to-date. For instance, the article on Robert Ingersoll mentions Susan Jacoby’s book Freethinkers (2004) but neglects her more relevant work The Great Agnostic (2013)—likely the result of material being pulled from previously published print editions, such as The Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers (2005), without any revision or updating.
Recently viewed content is tracked for each user session. For longer-term projects, researchers can create personal accounts to save items or browsing history or build search alerts. Articles can be printed; shared via email, Google, Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest; and cited in APA, MLA, or Chicago styles. The database works well on mobile devices and is generally easy to use.
PRICING Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Philosophers is available for purchase (perpetual access is $4,357 to $18,673) or by subscription ($726 to $3,112). Pricing is based on size and type of institution, with discounts from consortia. Annual content update fees (for purchase only) are $500 to $900 per year, based on size and type of institution.
VERDICT The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Philosophers has more scholarly rigor than Wikipedia (although it is not nearly as frequently updated) and features a wider variety of biographical articles than the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (though Bloomsbury’s database lacks subject-specific articles), making it valuable for students of philosophy and the history of thought in religion, theology, economics, literature, and other related disciplines.
Brian T. Sullivan is an Information Literacy Librarian, Herrick Memorial Library, Alfred University, Alfred, NY