Thanks in part to the influence of Friedrich Brockhaus’s Konversations-Lexikon, a German encyclopedia inaugurated in 1796, biographies of the living had become unremarkable in Europe’s encyclopedias by the early nineteenth century. Today, they are pervasive. Between 1674 and 1750, they remained rare and controversial in the alphabetical ancestors of the modern encyclopedia. In this article, I explain why, and show how encyclopedists’ practices evolved in the period in which the historical dictionary and other alphabetical proto-encyclopedias burst onto the European literary scene, that is, the late seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth. I begin by exploring early encyclopedists’ motives for not treating the living. My second section then examines the most influential historical dictionaries as well as the encyclopedia that best covered the living, tracking how practices regarding contemporary biographies evolved. Finally, I consider some of the broader social and cultural changes, both internal and external to the history of encyclopedia-making, that are reflected in encyclopedias’ growing coverage of the living and the recently deceased.

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