Oregon Encyclopedia Project Opens Door to Documenting State - The Daily Astorian - Astoria

Reprinted with permission from The Daily Astorian of Astoria, Oregon

Oregon Encyclopedia Project opens door to documenting state's history
Publication: Daily Astorian Category: Local News
Pub. Date: 6/3/08


For The Daily Astorian

Like to change history or, at a minimum, add to it? The Oregon Encyclopedia Project, a joint effort by Portland State University and the Oregon Historical Society, is a highly ambitious undertaking that has led its representatives to this area so Astorians could have the chance to do just that.

How? Information is being gathered on "all things Oregon" from now through 2009, the year of Oregon's Sesquicentennial. The ensuing Oregon Encyclopedia of History and Culture will furnish, according to the project's Web site, "definitive, general information about Oregon, its places, culture, institutions, significant events, and the people that shaped them. The user-friendly electronic format is intended for use by students, teachers, researchers, and general information-seekers."

When the first edition is done, it's expected to include:

* Nearly 3,000 entries with more than 200 essays on Oregon subjects;

* Coverage of significant people, events, places, institutions and more in Oregon, from 10,000 years ago to the present;

* Essays and entries on ethnic groups and communities throughout Oregon's history;

* Entries on art, architecture, literature, performing arts, music and popular culture;

* Hundreds of images, documents and maps;

* Essays that add new perspective to issues and events;

* Special sections for teachers and students K-12.

What's groundbreaking, at least in terms of how history has traditionally been compiled and recorded, is the Encyclopedia's road show: Bill Lang, editor-in-chief, Susan Martin, project coordinator, and Barbara Mahoney, editorial board member and author. They were in Astoria Saturday as part of a month-long tour of the state and many of its communities and reflect the project's overarching commitment to public involvement.

In morning and afternoon sessions at the Astoria Public Library, Lang spoke about the project to a handful of people at each event. Local museums, historical societies and others have been contacted. But information is also being sought from anyone who knows about people, places and events "of significance" in Astoria's history--anyone, that is, who can write a succinct 200, 400, 750 or 1,000 words about the topic and whose entry meets established criteria.

The Encyclopedia's creators don't presume to know everything about this state and want to find out from the source--those of us who live in its various nooks and crannies--just exactly what makes Oregon Oregon. So, they're soliciting ideas, suggestions and leads to help them in this work.

Suggestions at the morning meeting included:

* The "Doughboy" memorial;

* Scandinavian communities;

* Astoria's infrastructure (rebuilding after the Great Fire);

* Building the area's jetties;

* Astoria's "chain wall;"

* Astoria's Regatta.

One particularly juicy historic tidbit came from a crumbling volume of old wanted posters covering a period from 1901 to 1906. It was unearthed by Jane Tucker, Astoria's head librarian, and referenced the incredible tale of Oy Sin, 36. This diminutive Chinese beauty (all of 4 feet 1 inch tall) was wanted for killing a Chinese man, chopping him into pieces and then shipping the body parts in a trunk to Seattle. She fled by ferry to Pendleton but was eventually caught. It was believed she had participated in the Tong Wars in Portland, as well.

Compiling Encyclopedia content and doing quality control are three senior editors, an experienced editorial staff, and an editorial board of 23 specialists from around the state, with varied interests and experience. Ultimately, everything will be subject to an editorial process and undergo strict fact checking. Unlike Wikipedia (an encyclopedia-like Web site), this online storehouse of information will be authoritative and inclusive.

Because Oregon's history and culture are dynamic, the Encyclopedia will grow and change as new material is developed and new Web-based features are added, organizers said. It will begin on the Internet and in 2010 a hard-copy volume will be printed with selected entries and essays.

Details of Oregon's history were a feature of the weekend discussion. Before Oregon was a state, there was the Oregon Territory which included Oregon, Washington, most of Idaho and parts of Montana and British Columbia. It wasn't until 1859 that Oregon became the 33rd state in the Union in its current configuration. Too, certain topics peculiar to Oregon transcend better-known boundaries – like the Hudson's Bay Co., based in Oregon, whose operations extended from the 42nd Parallel north to Alaska and east to the Continental Divide. Then, there's the fact that the chronology goes back to the first humans in the area which were, just recently, found to go back more than 14,000 years.

Another problem researchers will seek to rectify is that the Oregon story as it's been told has left some things out. One of its goals will be to reflect the communities of people (ethnic, cultural, religious and other) that have, up until now, been given short shrift in the historical record. Examples cited include the history of the nine tribal communities in the state and the contributions of women.

How to write an entry

Before writing and submitting an entry, though, go to the project Web site, which gives guidelines you'll want to consider beforehand. The categories for entries include "biography, events, places, institutions and groups, and biota."

What is significant?

Their Web site offers a list of questions. It's suggested that authors shouldn't write about their own families or businesses or about events in which they participated.

How can you help?

Involvement by North Coast residents may take other forms. Help is needed with fact-checking, photograph research, publicity, office work and fundraising. Or, you might want to point out technical errors. Supporters can also make a donation at www.oregonencyclopedia.org

Oregon Encyclopedia - Oregon History and Culture

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