A New Project Puts More Than 150 Years of Oregon History Just One Click Away

The Oregon Encyclopedia Project takes history high-tech.

May 19, 2009 Published in the February 2008 issue of Portland Monthly

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STATEHOOD DAY, Oregon’s own pat on the back for becoming the 33rd state. Never heard of it? No wonder. It shares February 14 with that other trumped-up “holiday” that’s adhered to by Hallmark and grade-schoolers with too much construction paper and paste. Let’s face it, romance is more fun than history.

But the Oregon Encyclopedia Project hopes to restore Statehood Day to its noble place by taking history high-tech. February 14 marks the official start of an 18-month-long fact-finding mission for what will be a searchable online compendium of over 150 years of Oregon history. “The goal is to figure out the signature pieces of Oregon’s history, as well as the issues that need to be represented today,” says OEP development director Sherry Manning. (The plan is to launch OregonEncyclopedia.org in 2009.) The Oregon Historical Society will host a soirée on the 14th—a good alternative for the loveless—to mark the project’s kickoff.

To ensure the website is truly for the people and by the people, project organizers are staging town hall meetings and deploying swarms of writers around the state to dig up answers to questions like: “When did Crater Lake’s Mount Mazama last erupt?” (about 7,700 years ago); “When did northern Oregon become Washington Territory?” (1853); and “What is the Oregon Vortex?” (a really, really bad tourist trap). They’re also hoping to uncover the stories of communities that traditionally have been underrepresented in the history books, like the cowboy pictured here. Of course, no wannabe Britannica is complete without great photos. When it’s done, the encyclopedia will include more than 3,000 entries, each with photos and essays. And isn’t that a better way to stroke our state ego than a shoe-box diorama? –_Bart Blasengame_

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