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An Alternative to Alternative Facts: The Annual Register
A comprehensive resource for reliable information about world events, published annually since 1758
Long considered essential reading by journalists, politicians, historians and anyone with an interest in current affairs, the Annual Register is a primary source text for historical research and (for the recent and current annuals) a current affairs reference work.
A reliable, comprehensive resource to explore an eclectic range of topics
The oldest continuing annual in English is a universe of vetted information – a universe of facts, with...
- - An account of “Paintings and drawings found among the ruins of Herculaneum” from 1763
- - The “History of a Patient from whom three hundred and ninety-five needles were extracted” from 1825?
- - Information about nine minor planets discovered in 1878
- - The value of gold and coin imported into the United Kingdom according to the Board of Trade returns in 1913
- - Figures from the 1940 census on the population of Portugal
- - Cases that made 1973 “a particularly busy year” for the International Court
- - The number of fatalities in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia as result of the Mekong river flood in 2001
- - A list of prominent books published in 2015
...and so much more.
The enduring influence of Edmund Burke
The course of the Annual Register – now in its 258th edition soon out in print – was set by an 18th century Anglo-Irish statesman named Edmund Burke, a well-known author, orator, philosopher and political theorist. He also – anonymously – served as the inaugural editor of the Annual Register.
When publishers James and Robert Dodsley conceived of an annual volume to review history, literature and politics in 1758, proper gentlemen didn’t work in journalism. Yet, despite any reticence, Burke, then young and not yet established in his career, accepted the position and fulfilled the role enthusiastically, with the intention that the Annual Register appeal to as wide a readership as possible.
In the preface of the first volume, Burke recognized that the newly-launched publication was competing with “other periodical compilers” in producing a review of contemporary events that was authoritative, but also entertaining and readable. But one distinct advantage of the Annual Register “over our fellow-labourers” was “our scheme of an annual rather than a monthly publication,” which allowed him to have a greater period of reflection to consider the importance of events, resulting in a draft of contemporary history, rather simply a journalistic account of them.
Not confined to a monthly publication, we have an opportunity of examining with care the products of the year, and of selecting what many appear most particularly deserving of notice. We have from the same cause the advantage of order; we are better able to rank the several kinds under their proper heads; at least with as much exactness as the nature of a miscellany will admit.
Burke penned the early volumes entirely by himself, according to biographers, and he worked in this capacity until he was elected to Parliament in 1765. Though Burke contributed to the publication for only seven years, he is often credited for setting the tone for the enduring success of the publication.
“Taking his editorial responsibilities seriously, [Burke] provided his readers with a varied choice of reading,” noted F.P. Locke in Edmund Burke, vol. 1, adding “The Register filled a need and rapidly acquired a reference value, as is attested by the frequency with which the early volumes were reprinted to provide complete sets.”
In the biography, Edmund Burke: The Visionary Who Invented Modern Politics, Jesse Norman elaborated:
The Annual Register attempted something new: not merely to be an authoritative and highly readable account of the year, but to add to that documentary record a wide range of other material of general interest. Its first part thus comprised a long piece of instant history, describing the main events of the year and placing them in a wider context, and a diary containing factual material culled from the newspapers, including births and deaths, speeches by the King, summaries of Acts of Parliament, and human-interest stories.
The distinctive second part was more lively. It included scientific reports, reviews essays, poetry, history, health and how-to tips, recent discoveries, archaeology and ‘Characters’ – character sketches of contemporary and historical figures, short biographies and anecdotes. Controversy was not sought out, but there was no attempt at balance for the sake of it. Some of the new material may not have been by Burke himself, but as editor he controlled the whole. The Register was, and was intended to be, thought-provoking, eclectic, lively and extremely wide-ranging – an extension of Burke’s own mind. It was a success from the first.
The value of the Annual Register for contemporary researchers
Contemporary Review (available from ProQuest Central) wrote about the landmark 250th anniversary of the Annual Register with “a salute [to] yet another splendid edition of this venerable publication.” Writing about the 2007 volume, this reviewer applauded the expansive scope of the modern edition, dealing with information in relation to 209 countries, where Burke was able to “basically limit his attention to the European nations along with their American colonies.”
“This makes it all the more useful,” noted the review, “as few of us have even a basic knowledge of most of the world's countries or of the issues that define their politics.”
“The best summary of this invaluable book is that it maintains the high standards it has inherited,” the reviewer added. “For breadth of coverage, for depth of analysis, for reasonable objectivity, and for clarity of writing, the 2007 Annual Register retains the position it has held for well over two centuries, that is, the best one-volume work of reference on the world today.”
Now, ProQuest is taking the functionality of the beloved Annual Register to another level. The comprehensive spread of information curated in the digital version of this publication has been enhanced with innovative features to boost its usability. The Annual Register has moved to the ProQuest platform for simplified searching, hit highlighting, and serendipitous discovery across the other ProQuest products a library might access.
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Additional ProQuest resources that can complement the Annual Register include:
ProQuest History Vault
ProQuest House of Commons Parliamentary Papers
ProQuest House of Lords Parliamentary Papers
ProQuest Statistical Abstract
ProQuest Literature Online