An Encyclopedia Sure to Please and Irritate

Joe DiMaggio made it this time. So did Amadou Diallo, ground zero, CompStat, the Halloween parade, the African Burial Ground, Chelsea Market, Michael R. Bloomberg. “The Gates,” the MetroCard and Pale Male are in there, too — each an idiosyncratic totem of New York City’s evolution in less than a generation.

Those subjects are among the nearly 800 newly memorialized in the second edition of the Encyclopedia of New York City, which Yale University Press is publishing Dec. 1 along with the New-York Historical Society. It comes 15 years after the original version captivated exacting scholars and not-so-serious students of the city alike.

“People love New York City,” said Kenneth T. Jackson, a professor of history at Columbia University who edited both volumes. “They were transformed by it, attracted to it, they remember it. This is a physical manifestation of a love affair.”

The first edition, published in 1995, spawned imitators in other cities and provoked enduring debates over why some people, places and institutions were left out and why some others received short shrift.

If that is not exactly the point of the encyclopedia, it is half the fun, which is also one reason why it is being published in print, though an electronic edition will probably follow.

“On the Internet, you cannot look up something that you do not know exists,” the editors write in the preface. “Serendipitous discoveries are often the best kind.”

The second edition is 211 pages longer (it sells for $65, the same price the first edition was soon raised to) and has 5,000 articles, mostly signed, on subjects ranging from Berenice Abbott, the photographer, to Louis Zukofsky, the poet.

Weighing in at nine pounds, the encyclopedia has about two million words on 1,561 pages and includes a diverse roster of loosely defined New Yorkers, including more sports stars, home addresses of historic figures, maps, illustrations and updated statistics (in metric measurements, too, to appeal to readers globally) and entries on 450 neighborhoods (ever hear of Hook Creek or Tallapoosa Point?) and a hundred ethnic groups.

Most of the original entries, which range from about 30 to 7,500 words, were revised and were current as of March 31 of this year.

Still, with hundreds of other entries deleted for space, bickering is inevitable:

Why is Frederic Church, the painter, included but not Francis Pharcellus Church, who wrote the famous “Yes, Virginia” editorial? Why does Abe Hirschfeld, the eccentric parking garage magnate, get the same space as Al Hirschfeld, the artist, (and more than Morris Hillquit, the Socialist whose policies helped inspire the New Deal)? How come Century 21 is there, but not the Carnegie Deli (it appears in the entry on delicatessens)?

There are lists of television shows produced in the city, Leon Trotsky’s address when he lived in the Bronx, Lee Harvey Oswald’s connection to New York (but not the fact that he was radicalized after he read a leaflet denouncing the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg) and a squib on the origin of Barbicide (the ubiquitous disinfectant in barber shops).

Arthur Ashe was inadvertently left out (Arthur Ashe Stadium is in), which may or may not provoke the same avalanche of dissent as when Joe DiMaggio was missing from the first edition because he did not fit the editors’ definition of a New Yorker.

“Robert Redford may live here, but people don’t associate him with New York,” Dr. Jackson said. “DiMaggio was from San Francisco and went home,” he added, relenting in the new edition in an example of the present influencing the past.

“There’s a sense of self-identify,” Dr. Jackson, a Tennessee native, said. “You can become a New Yorker in a week.”

Abraham Lincoln is listed. “If it hadn’t been for his few days in New York, he would not have been president,” Dr. Jackson said. So are Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Barack Obama because of their connections to the city.

“As professors,” said Lisa Keller, who teaches history at the State University of New York in Purchase and is the executive editor of the second edition, “we have to believe the past informs the present and the present informs the future.”

“One of the things we learned is that some things you can’t have an absolute answer to,” Dr. Keller said.

Among them is when the city was founded. The encyclopedia points out that while the City Council changed the city seal from 1664 to 1625, “the first Dutch settlers arrived in 1624 and the town was incorporated as New Amsterdam in 1653.”

Other experts on New York praised the project.

“In our Internet age, we can access an infinite number of pieces of information — but they are of indeterminate trustworthiness,” said Mike Wallace, an author of “Gotham,” a history of New York City, and a history professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. “The contributions not only provide vetted data, but they serve as portals to ongoing conversations within the scholarly community, giving us the latest thinking, as well as the latest facts.”

Sarah Henry, deputy director and chief curator for the Museum of the City of New York, said she was impressed by “how characters and events from the city’s distant past have also made an appearance, reflecting the advancement of historical scholarship.”

As an example, she cited Adriaen van der Donck, who lived in New Amsterdam and appeared in the Museum of the City of New York’s recent exhibition “Amsterdam/New Amsterdam: The Worlds of Henry Hudson.”

“In the new edition, he has his own entry explaining his role in the politics of the colony, as described by recent historians,” Dr. Henry said. “And even short entries — like the description of the 19th-century Seneca Village, located in what is now Central Park — got a thorough reworking.”

Since the first edition was published, Dr. Jackson said, “the biggest story in New York is the safer city.” That story is addressed by the encyclopedia, but it is necessarily vaguer about where the intersection of people, place and time will lead a city that does not spend much time dwelling on its past.

“New Yorkers didn’t care about its history, and neither did the cities it’s in a race with now, like Shanghai and Hong Kong,” Dr. Jackson said. “But New York seems to have found a balance between change and preservation — it’s an uneasy balance, but it’s not like Shanghai, where you knock everything down, or Paris, where you can’t change anything.

“Just think,” he added. “A half-century ago, New York was the leading industrial city in the world and the biggest port in the world. The truth is, New York could have become Detroit. Instead, it revived. Does New York provide a road map to a world city that will survive into the 21st century? Think of all the things that have happened here. It’s worth studying.”

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