After years of work, there’s a major new education tool for the state
Nevada residents of a certain age may remember the age of encyclopedia salesmen—or, in today’s terms, encyclopedia salespeople. Now, Nevadans can gain increasing access to the essential information of a Silver State-focused and founded encyclopedia, without the interruption and intrusion of a doorbell at dinnertime.
The Online Nevada Encyclopedia is the rapidly developing brainchild of the Nevada Humanities committee. Although it has been online for some time, it is being formally introduced this week. Executive director Judith Winzeler, who recently took over the project from Tara Shepperson, says the encyclopedia’s development and debut is not only long-overdue, it’s also been a long time coming.
“We received our seed money just before 9/11,” Winzeler explains, adding that the online encyclopedia produced by the Georgia Humanities Council served as a model for Nevada. “It took a couple of years after [that] to really get sufficient resources together to hire staff and move forward quickly. Two years ago, we received funds from the state of Nevada and the U.S. Department of Education. We had some money, too. The original seed money came from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which had an interest.”
Continued federal funding for the project, says Winzeler, is “not a sure thing. We’ll also be looking for support from local sources this year. Our current funding will get us through more content and site development, but we will be looking for other sources, both public and private.”
Present and future generations of Nevadans can log onto www.onlinenevada.org and select from several Online Nevada Encyclopedia “volumes:” Land and Water, Peoples of Nevada, Community and Society, The Arts, Business and Economy, Mining, Gaming and Tourism, Politics and Government, Nuclear Nevada and Exploration and Transportation. Like the state itself, the encyclopedia is definitely in a period of rapid growth.
“At the moment, we’re probably putting up 10-15 new entries every week,” Winzeler notes. “We have a lot of work in process: literature, the arts, natural history, Native Americans and pre-history.”
An identifying hallmark of authentic American Indian history, though, is oral storytelling—tales that have existed for generations, with grandparents telling their grandchildren the stories their grandparents told them. Writing it down remains a relatively new phenomenon in Native societies. The Online Nevada Encyclopedia’s several features, references and links to Nevada’s Native American peoples, culture and history, is material written by non-Native Americans: Nevada State Museum curator Gene Hattori, renowned anthropologist Catherine Fowler and others. In terms of revisionist history, their input—not to be diminished—will likely be considered typical, worn-out protocol by the expert storytellers of the Great Basin’s Washo, Paiute and Shoshone nations. Winseler emphasizes that the encyclopedia is a work in progress.
“I think we’ll be taking advantage of the work that [anthropologist/educator] Tom King and the State Museum have already conducted,” she said. “For certain, we do want Native people telling their own stories.”
Winzeler also says the Nevada Humanities committee will consider encyclopedia content proposals by well-qualified Nevadans. To date, contributors like former Las Vegas editor Jeff Burbank, UNR’s Peter Goin and the RN&R’s Dennis Myers are ideal, she asserts.
“Journalists have been great. They’re used to writing fast and on deadline. In some cases, they’re really stronger writers than scholars. We do want people’s voices there, as well. We are looking for more contributors.”
Browsing around the encyclopedia site, Native and long-time Nevadans are discovering new people and places previously unheard of. Disseminating vital and factual information, enlightening and entertaining are all essential elements of an effective, efficient encyclopedia. Reno-based independent computer consultant Michael Graham says it does just that.
“I think they’ve succeeded,” says Graham. “Quite a few [facts] were things I didn’t know, and I’m a native. The picture gallery was just fantastic. [The] dozens of virtual-reality graphics that you can open and spin around the site and look at the room is really a fascinating and delightful offering. I can see some things that they’ll need to do in the future, such as adding a brief description to the photos, so that when you move your pointer over it, a little description pops up, and article summaries, so when you look at the index, you get a summary as well as the article. The sound, everything works; no errors. They definitely need to link the picture gallery directly to the stories, which I didn’t see happening now, and vice-versa, they need to link the photos back to the articles. I see those as minor changes to the basic format, [which is] working, if you keep in mind that what they’re trying to create is an encyclopedia. I really enjoyed the site, and I will definitely go back to it. I’m looking forward to seeing how the site will develop. For an initial effort, it’s excellent.”
From mining and gaming history to mainstream pop culture happenings like Burning Man, to the secluded beauty of Sunshine Locality, “a National Historic Register Palaeoarchaic archaeological site in …White Pine County (click on “Peoples of Nevada,” then on “Native American History”), the Online Nevada Encyclopedia is designed to be interactively user-friendly, to elevate Nevada’s profile nationally, and to grow rapidly, along with the state.
“One of the things that interests us, is the oral history or the personal narrative,” Winzeler says. “Another is community history; [facilitated by] someone who can work with the rural communities, and get that [content] online. We’re also interested in moving more toward issues. An encyclopedia provides a place where you can get perspective on issues. Ideally, where we’re coming from, humanities are part of our mission and why we exist, right down to the founding legislation—that a democratic society must have an educated and informed public. We see [it] as a way to address that. Our board is also very aware that in this state—[one of] the fastest growing in the nation—80 percent of our residents come from elsewhere. We also have real divides, between old-timers and newcomers, urban, rural, north, south. So the online encyclopedia becomes a vehicle for perhaps community building.”
In this digital age, Winzeler hopes that 100 years from now, the encyclopedia will still be fulfilling its purpose.
“Who knows?” she wonders. “Technology changes so fast. I don’t know if any of us can predict the future, but there have been people [cautioning that] if certain stories and documents don’t get digitized, they’re kind of forgotten about. So this idea of preserving cultural memory is out there, and something that we’re aware of. If something is digitized it’s pretty accessible these days. If things are only in a manuscript and in a library and you have to go there to see it, it might get lost. I think here in Nevada, there’s a lot of cultural memory of the state that’s still in people’s stories, in their memories.”
One of those Nevadans is James Hulse, 76, a retired UNR professor and author who provided the content on the community of Pioche, in Lincoln County.
“I think the idea that Nevada’s history—and its much broader history, culture, geography and economy—can be made more accessible to more people, through this media, is an excellent idea,” Hulse says. “It’s the wave of the future.”
Nevada’s future—sans virtual and annoying encyclopedia salespeople.