Mississippi Encyclopedia launches online platform

Published 10:30 am Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Mississippi Encyclopedia officially launched on a new online platform this week.

While the text version of the encyclopedia was released in May 2017, the new online version was designed to be a more accessible way for people to learn valuable information, according to James G. Thomas, who contributed to the book and helped adapt the text for the internet.

The print edition of the Mississippi Encyclopedia is a nine-pound, 1,495 page bound volume, boasting nearly 700 different authors. The project began at the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture in 2003, and is a comprehensive history of all subjects relating to the Magnolia State. Prior to its publication, the last time an encyclopedia of Mississippi was published was 1907.

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Ted Ownby, director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, said that while he regularly uses the print encyclopedia for his classes, the online version has its advantages.

“In terms of accessibility, the book itself is large and heavy and not transportable. So, we wanted something people could use in classrooms or as tourists, the way people use the internet now,” Ownby said. “The online version is something we can update and improve and correct. We’ll be able to add new entries and we’ve already found things to update and correct.”

In addition to the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the University Press of Mississippi, the Mississippi Humanities Council, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the university’s Arch Dalrymple III Department of History and School of Law and the Mississippi Humanities Council also contributed their resources to the project.

Another advantage of the online encyclopedia, Ownby said, is its search feature. For example, if one was to search a broad topic like “Ole Miss,” there are sub-topics related to the university that would also come up. Visitors to the website will be able to discover facts about Mississippi that go beyond their original search, something Ownby said adds to its educational value.

“In Lafayette County in particular, there’s a large group of scholars who wanted to make sure we get the story of William Faulkner, his work and his life, told really well,” Ownby said. “That group of scholars helped us kind of broaden out beyond Faulkner and his work, to family members and influences and other writers.”

Each entry in the Mississippi Encyclopedia is designed to provide an authoritative but accessible introduction. It also features long essays on agriculture, archaeology, the civil rights movement, the Civil War, contemporary issues, drama, education, the environment, ethnicity, fiction, folklife, foodways, gender, geography and more.

In addition to the encyclopedia itself, the website also features 13 short films published by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture. The purpose of the videos, according to Thomas, is to immerse visitors to the website in the topic they’re researching.

“There’s a tab at the top that says ‘videos,’ and we’ve attached short films, like the one about Jere Allen, who’s a painter in Oxford,” Thomas said. “That’s something you can’t do with a book, and we’re continuing to add those. The encyclopedia content is free, it’s all-inclusive, and it does a great job of representing all of us in the state.”

The print version of the Mississippi Encyclopedia won a special achievement award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters and awards of merit from the Mississippi Historical Society and the Mississippi Heritage Trust. Ownby said he hopes the website will follow suit in the future, and more importantly, will bring Mississippi history to the masses.

To access the Mississippi Encyclopedia online, visit https://mississippiencyclopedia.org.