Charles Van Doren once observed that “Because the world is radically new, the ideal encyclopedia should be radical too.” MNopedia, the digital encyclopedia of all things Minnesota – significant people, places, and events – deserves the “radical” appellation on several scores.
A production of the Minnesota Historical Society and funded by a Legacy Amendment Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund grant, MNopedia is a work-in-progress.
The call is out for Minnesota scholars, librarians, teachers, history buffs and people with good memories to critique the Beta version of the resource that is currently available online. The whole production process is interactive. Readers are actually encouraged to let editors know what else they would like to know about the publication’s content and format.
The technology itself is a matter of public discussion. For example, editors write that “the Minnesota Historical Society has chosen to put MNopedia content into a flexible, standards-based database that’s query-able via APL. As a result, MNopedia content eventually can be used beyond this browser-readable Web site – in mobile apps, audience- or situation-specific products, as a component in other Web projects, in print publications, and more, whether these products are created by the Minnesota Historical Society or by other individuals or entities.” Radical, huh.
Discussing their timeline, editors indicate that they are now in an “expanding” phase where they will “continue building on what we’ve learned from users and expand MNopedia. We’ll add new features and consider new ways to deliver content. We’ll also explore content partnerships with other organizations, find more experts to contribute, and integrate new articles.”
The initiative to find more experts and integrate new articles involves a call for input. Editors maintain “that’s what ‘beta’ is all about, after all…testing, improving and expanding a small working model.” The MNopedia team invites ideas on eras and topics to cover next, features to add, contributors and more.
Presently the eras covered in the MNopedia begin before European contact, i.e. pre-1585, and continue through the new global age, 1980-present. Topics included are African Americans, Agriculture, American Indians, Architecture, The Arts, Business and Industry, Cities and Towns, Education, Environment, Health and Medicine, Immigration, Labor, Politics, Religion and Belief, Sports and Recreation, Technology, Transportation, War and Conflict, and Women.
Predictably, several of my arbitrary searches dead ended. Others led me to great articles by serious scholars who write for readers who thirst for good information,well written and comprehensible to mere mortals.
A check of recently added articles led me to an article on the early history of the Minneapolis Waterworks, another on the Origins of the School Safety Patrol (first in the nation) and a very helpful piece on the Mennonites of Mountain Lake. Each was concise, readable and full of stuff about which I had wondered but never known.
Though “radical” may an overstatement – and politically problematic – MNopedia is definitely not your grandparent’s encyclopedia.