The Historical Dictionary of Switzerland (HDS) is set up as an academic reference work. It includes the most important topics and objects of Swiss history from prehistory up to the present.
The dictionary covers the different periods of the history of mankind of today's Switzerland from the very beginning in paleolithic times to the most important historical events in the late twentieth century. The space attributed to the different periods is not evaluated in terms of time but on the basis of the existing historical material. The space reserved for the period of over one hundred thousand years from paleolithic times up to the beginnings of the Middle Ages amounts to approximately 10% of the entire space of the complete edition. Whereas the short period from World War One up to the present takes 20% of the available space overall.
The HDS comprises four different groups of headwords: Biographies, headwords for families, headwords for geographical entries (communities, cantons, other nation states, different reigns, fortresses, archeological sites etc.) and headwords for thematic contributions, i.e. subject articles (historical phenomena and terms, institutions, events etc.). A distinct distribution key helps to distribute the complete material to the four groups. An additional, rather impressive space is reserved for illustrations. The length of entries may vary from short biographies of a few lines to comprehensive multi-column surveys over distinct topics.
Since the seventeenth century, several works have attempted to compile the knowledge on Swiss history in an encyclopedic form: Hoffmann (1677), von Waldkirch (1721), the famous Leu (1747-1765), Holzhalb (1786-1795) and eventually, the Historical Bibliographical Dictionary of Switzerland which had been published by Victor Attinger between 1921 and 1934. In 1988, the foundation Historical Dictionary of Switzerland was established under the patronage of the Swiss Academy of Humanities and the General Swiss Society of Historical Research (Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Geschichte SGG). The foundation's main task is the publication of a new encyclopedia based on recent historical research and accessible to a broad public. Its financial funding is guaranteed under the conditions of the national research paragraph.
The alphabetical order of headwords gives the reader an easy access to information and bibliographical references on every single entry. The HDS is simultaneously produced in either of the three national languages German, French and Italian. Every edition comprises twelve volumes, a total of approximately 40 000 headwords, which add up to over 50 million typographic signs. Pictures, maps, tables and graphic illustrations add to the diversity of the texts. In June 1999, the foundation HDS and the editor Schwabe & Co., Basle, as general contractor, agreed to co-operate. The first volume in german, french and italian language was simultaneously presented to the public on October 31, 2002. The german edition of HDS is being edited by Schwabe, the french edition - the Dictionnaire historique de la Suisse (DHS) - by Gilles Attinger at Hauterive and the italian edition - the Dizionario storico della Svizzera (DSS) - by Armando Dadō at Locarno. It is planned to publish one volume per year, the funds permitting.
In addition, a single-volume edition in Rumansch is being compiled. In autumn 1999, the first articles of the Lexicon istoric retic (LIR) were published in the Annalas de la Societad Retorumantscha. Since that time, yearly partial publication of community articles of some 30 pages appear in the Annalas. In 2004 the Lexicon istoric retic went online (www.e-lir.ch).
In 1997, the board decided to commemorate the founding of the Swiss Federation of 1848 with an internet publication of the HDS for the jubilee year 1998. Since mid-1997, staff members and authors have had access to excerpts of the dictionary on the Internet. From autumn 1998 an improved publicly accessible version is on the Internet. This trilingual electronic publication contains the complete list of entries of the dictionary as well as all the articles that have been edited so far though without any illustrations. Also after the publication of the printed HDS the e-HDS remains accessible free of charge.
The process of publication of the Historical Dictionary of Switzerland is of high complexity and could not be accomplished without the support of Information Technology. The entire preparations of the project at the central editorial office in Berne, the complete planning of the work, as well as the compilation of the list of headwords were accomplished with the support of Information Technology. It also plays an important role for the actual production of the dictionary. The whole production process is organised on the principles of a specially developed software (administration, control over a multitude of contacts with authors, translators and academic advisers etc.). The edition of all texts is monitored with the help of a highly specialised production procedure. All texts are structured with SGML and XML on the basis of standardised structure modells. This procedure guarantees the coherence of the encyclopedia and enables an automated up-dating of the text for printing and for publication in the Internet.
The HDS staff is composed of approximately 30 persons at the central editorial office and roughly 100 academic advisers who teach and research at Swiss or foreign universities or numerous cantonal (state) archives. In the meantime there exist contracts with more than 2 500 highly qualified historians writing the entries which then are translated by over 100 specialists. Women make up one third of a total of 2 600 employees.