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Oklahoma Historical Society releases 'Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture'


Luke Atkinson April 1st, 2010

Everything about Oklahoma from A to Z can be found under the covers of a new, two-volume reference book detailing the state's history.The Oklahoma Historical Society released "The Encyclopedia of Okla...

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Everything about Oklahoma from A to Z can be found under the covers of a new, two-volume reference book detailing the state's history.

The Oklahoma Historical Society released "The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture" this year with hopes to preserve the history of the Sooner State while furthering the understanding of its place in national history. The encyclopedia is now available to the public.

The two-volume set, coming in at 1,669 pages, contains 2,455 entries detailing people, towns, events and cultural movements that shaped the state's past. The project began 28 years ago when Bob Blackburn, OHS executive director, was looking for a way to make his job easier.

"It came up in a conversation I had with a fellow historian in 1982," he said. "We were sitting around and drinking coffee, wishing for a certain tool to make our work easier. We wanted a database to help our search of Oklahoma people and places."

Blackburn began applying for grants, but was denied. This put the project on hold for 16 years until he applied for a grant with the National Endowment for the Humanities. It was approved in 1998, so he and his team created a group of professional historians and scholars to determine what belonged in the book.

The encyclopedia took more than 700 scholars, researchers and writers a total of 12 years to compile the book.

Writing the entries began in 2001, researching each possible entry within the state's 77 counties and hundreds of towns. Editors sifted through contributions as authors prepared them in hopes of expediting the process. Dianna Everett, editor of the encyclopedia, said the staff decided what to cover by selecting categories as guidelines for entries.

"We knew we needed to investigate (topics like) African-American history, American-Indian history and the Civil War," she said. "We tried to cover the waterfront, in terms of the encyclopedia."

The entries are generally 2,000 words in length and are arranged alphabetically. Each essay is designed to link to historical context, illustrating the positive and negative aspects of Oklahoma's history.

Finding the entries wasn't necessarily the most difficult part of the project. Everett said finding the information behind them was what was tough to discover.

"Forgive me for sounding flippant, but none of it was easy," she said. "I'd say rounding up local individuals to prepare town and counties entries was the most difficult. Most counties have a historical society. There were a few who didn't, so we had to talk to public librarians to see who was researching local history."

Despite the difficulties, Everett said she hopes the work will create a continuing interest in the subjects.
Blackburn said he hopes readers will also have fun.

"It will serve our state best as a reference work, but at the same time, it's a lot of fun," he said. "I think it's a book that someone could put on their coffee table, pick it up and learn about the state and its people. I think it's going to popular as a reference and a history book."

Books may be purchased at the Oklahoma Historical Society gift shop inside the Oklahoma History Center, 2401 N. Laird. Copies are $100 for the set. OHS members and certain organizations, including educational institutes, may be eligible for a discount.

photo/Mark Hancock
 
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