John Inscoe, the editor of the New Georgia Encyclopedia, and Kelly Caudle, the managing editor, met with Columns in the encyclopedia offices in the main library. Inscoe is a professor of history at UGA and Caudle is a managing editor with the UGA Press. The discussion focused on the complexity of an online encyclopedia, along with plans for the encyclopedia’s future.
Columns: What’s the official launch date?
Caudle: Feb. 12-Georgia History Day. We are going to have a public virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Capitol.
Columns: What’s been the most fun about this project?
Inscoe: I think it’s the chance to get out and about the state-the networks we’ve established have been exciting. And what we’re learning, in every imaginable area.
Caudle: The most enjoyable thing for me has been-this is going to sound a little corny-every day I’ve learned something new. There’s so much beyond the established accepted history. We need to cover the major topics-such as the Civil War, Reconstruction, the civil rights movement, major events in Georgia’s history. But there’s room-it’s just a matter of time and getting it done-to talk about Hazel Raines, the first woman aviator in Georgia. There’s so much to uncover.
Inscoe: The vast majority of the encyclopedia is factual articles, of course. But we have also commissioned experts in certain fields to write top-10 lists.
We’ve got Hugh Ruppersburg to write about the top-10 works of fiction related to Georgia, and Dan Coenen over in the law school has written about 15 Georgia Supreme Court cases. Richard Neupert is providing us with an annotated list of the 10 most important films about Georgia.
It’s a good way of bringing users into a general area and from that moving on to specific articles in that field.
Columns: You said it was “only a matter of time” to add a story. Obviously the encyclopedia could continue to expand forever. Will it?
Caudle: It can go on as long as we have the money, the university support, the resources. We could not do this alone. We have a very small staff of editors, but we have freelance writers and section editors who help vet the content.
Institutions have opened up their archives to us. The university, the Hargrett Library-people have been very generous. If we keep getting the kind of support that we’ve had, it’s just a matter of us having the funds to continue operating and staff here to keep the process going.
Inscoe: It’s probably also important to note that it will by no means be complete when we go up.
Caudle: We expect to have around 700 articles on the site by the time we go live, and the original vision of the encyclopedia would be around 2,000 articles. We expect to be able to do that over 2004 and 2005. Beyond that, we can continue adding as long as we want.
Inscoe: And revising, and updating. And this is an expectation of an online resource that you don’t have in a print volume, which you know is going to be outdated by the time it’s in print.
Columns: Have you dealt with updating?
Inscoe: It’s been a concern all along. Our article on Jimmy Carter, for example, came in two years ago, and since then he’s won the Nobel Prize, he’s been to Cuba, he’s written a novel-all of which we’ve had to add.
Columns: How will possible changes come to your attention?
Caudle: I think we’ll rely on the writers themselves, and our section editors, and we’ve got a team of editorial reviewers, and the users of the site.
Inscoe: Once people are using it, I feel sure we’re going to be flooded with suggestions.
Caudle: We do want the site to be authoritative and we do take great care with everything. There is a long editorial process. John, our editor, reviews everything. Section editors also review in their areas of expertise. We’ve got copy editors, fact checkers, proofreaders-a lot goes into it. I don’t want to give the impression that we just get an idea and put something up there.
Inscoe: The fact-checking process has been one of the more interesting challenges. We’ve found a much higher level of expectation of factual accuracy in an encyclopedia than in a monograph or a book. We are using a first-rate team of UGA reference librarians. They see everything we do, and it’s amazing how much they catch. It’s a big team, with a lot of people involved.
As we’ve watched other states try to get projects like this under way, I have come to really appreciate the combination of resources we have here in Georgia-the university, the governor’s office and a state legislature that have been very supportive, the corporate sponsors, the University of Georgia Press, the library, GALILEO.
Columns: And I understand that other states are interested in imitating what you’ve done here.
Caudle: This project has been held up by the National Endowment for the Humanities as a national model for state encyclopedias.
We have served as consultants for a handful of other state humanities councils that are trying to do the same thing-Georgia’s going to be the first.