Knowledge for Sale: Norwegian Encyclopaedias in the Marketplace


  • Siv Frøydis Berg National Library of Norway
  • Tore Rem Department of Literature, Area Studies and European Languages, University of Oslo, Norway



Encyclopaedia, encyclopaedism, Norway, history, market


Encyclopedias present and contain knowledge, but historically they have also been commercial commodities, produced for sale. In this article, we study the self-presentations of a selection of Norwegian encyclopedias, as these are expressed in the form of commercial images, advertising texts and slogans. We thus present a brief but detailed study of what might be called a number of paratextual matters associated with 20th-century Norwegian encyclopedias, with the aim of identifying the most significant or recurring topoi in the material. Our analysis shows that claims about speed and modernization are among the most conspicuous ingredients in these self-presentations, claims which, we argue, feed into a particular logic of a particular version of 20th-century modernity. The article begins with an analysis of the commercially successful Konversationslexicon, the first Norwegian encyclopedia, published in 1906 and for a long time market leader of the bourgeois tradition. The Konversationslexicon was produced with the explicit aim of providing a source of conversation for the educated classes, a new and expanding group of readers. We also show how the publisher Aschehoug went on to strengthen its own position in this market through a sophisticated process of differentiation. Seen as a contrast to these market leaders, we explore the Norwegian tradition of counter-encyclopaedias, with the radical PaxLeksikon as our main example. This encyclopaedia came into existence as a result of a strong ideological motivation and was run by left-wing idealists. Nevertheless, and perhaps inevitably, it ended up situating itself within the same market mechanisms and the same commercial logic as the bourgeois encyclopaedias. The article ends by a brief consideration of the change from commercial print encyclopaedias to internet-based encyclopaedias, and of the new challenges this poses in a small nation, rhetorically and in the struggle for funding.


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Blaszczyk, Regina Lee (2009): American Consumer Society, 1865-2005, Wheeling: Harlan Davidson.

Chartier, Roger (2006): “Labourers and Voyagers: From the Text to the Reader”, David Finkelstein & Alistair McCleery (eds): The Book History Reader, 2nd ed., London: Routledge, 87-98.

Cohen, Lizabeth (2004): A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America, New York: Vintage.

Conrad, Ruth (2006): Lexiconpolitik, Berlin: de Gruyter.

Genette, Gérard (1997): Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, trans. Jane E. Lewin, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Grieg, Harald (1971): En forleggers erindringer, Oslo: Gyldendal.

Hilton, Matthew (2003): Consumerism in 20th-Century Britain: The Search for a Historical Movement, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511610097

McGann, Jerome J. (1991): The Textual Condition, Princeton, NJ: Princeton U.P.

McKenzie, Donald F. (2006): “The Book as an Expressive Form”, David Finkelstein & Alistair

cCleery (eds): The Book History Reader, 2nd ed., London: Routledge, 35-46.

Meyer, Georg (1966): Das Konversations-Lexicon: eine Sonderform der Enzyklopädie, dissertation at Universität Göttingen.

Myrvang, Christine (2009): Forbruksagentene: Slik vekket de kjøpelysten, Oslo, Pax Forlag.

Rudeng, Erik (1997): William Nygaard. 1865-1952, Oslo: Aschehoug.

Strasser, Susan (1989): Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market, New York: Pantheon Books.

Sundin, Olof & Jutta Haider (2013): “Short paper: Professional Digital Encyclopedias as Socio-Technical Systems”. Presented at The Eight International Conference on Conceptions of Library and Information Science at the Royal School of Library and Information Science, Copenhagen University, August 19-22 1013: (accessed 16 February 2014).

Tveterås, Egil & Harald Ludvig Tveterås (1996): Boken lever: Norsk bokbransje etter 1900. Vol. 4 in Den norske bokhandels historie, Oslo: Cappelen Forlag.

Primary Sources

The National Library of Norway

SA 655.5 [Collection of small prints, pamphlets etc], Aschehoug & Co

“En prisregulering”, 1931.

“Under pressen”, 3.3.1931.

“Aschehoug 15-bind”, 1939.

“Aschehoug Konversasjonsleksikon 18 store bind”, 1955.

“En seks-trinns-rakett!”, 1958.

“FOKUS – kunnskap på en ny måte!”, 1958.

Aschehoug Konversasjonsleksikon, different pamphlets.

FOKUS, different pamphlets.

SA 655.5, [Collection of small prints, pamphlets etc], Pax Forlag

“Her kommer PaxLeksikon”, 1978.

“Et opprør i seks bind”, 1978.

“Her er PaxLeksikon. Nyskrevet av folk som har preget samfunnsdebatten de siste 20 åra”, 1978.

“Dagblabla”, 5.3.1979.

“Her kommer Pax Leksikon”, kampanjetidsplan 1978.

“Vervekampanje”, 1979.

The Norwegian Labour Movement Archives and Library

PAX Paxleksikon, I 145

“Dagsorden/framdriftsgruppa” [”Agenda/propulsion group”], 14/6 [1978], notat av 9/6-78, CVK.

PAX Paxleksikon II 146

AML 1980-01-10.

Newspaper Articles

Aftenposten 20 March 2012.

Klassekampen 24 March 2010.

Morgenbladet 12-18 March 2010.

Morgenbladet 26 March-8 April 2010.

Morgenbladet 15-21 November 2013.

Other Material (2008). “Overtar ikke store norske leksikon”,, (accessed 10 February 2014).

Arts Council Norway (2014):, (accessed 10 February 2014).

All illustrations: The National Library of Norway.

Archives consulted: The National Library of Norway, Collection of small prints and Collection of posters, and The Norwegian Labour Movement Archives and Library.






Theme: Changing Orders of Knowledge? Encyclopedias in Transition