Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Plenary Session

The following discussion concluded the Encyclopedia’s Civic Partnership and Planning Workshop, held April 16-17, 2009, at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Please join the discussion by adding your thoughts below.

The final session and dialogue began with the editors’ summary of the dominant questions and ideas that emerged during the workshop. The general consensus presented was that the Encyclopedia must be part of a larger framework, even as participants were divided over a print versus online format. It was suggested that a print Encyclopedia might be viewed as a twentieth-century production, whereas a hybrid model of print and electronic media would be more forward-looking. The inclusive potential of a hybrid model was discussed, as some argued that the Encyclopedia must be electronic to be publically engaged and responsive. With regards to determining the Encyclopedia’s design, it was suggested that the editors try out different formats by publishing in interim steps and not locking into a singular approach at the outset. Participants spoke in favor of being open to multiple options and decried the either/or dichotomy of print and online options, with some encouraging the editors to allow the project to grow online and see what form it takes.

The editors described the overall purpose of the workshop as part of the process of deciding what is important to the project and what the goals are for it. Howard Gillette singled out the inclusion of “greater” in the Encyclopedia’s title as one of the issues to emerge in that process. Gillette questioned whether the regional idea worked and if the intellectual footprint existed for the Encyclopedia to cover this expansive scope. His tentative response was “not yet” and he highlighted this issue as one that would evolve as the project progressed. Additionally, Gillette spoke of the effort to attract contributors and questioned whether the editors’ willingness to deal with difficult questions in the Encyclopedia could lead to conflicts with the publisher down the road. Other participants also addressed the question of regionality and whether it needs to be made explicit or might be made clear by the scholarship included in the Encyclopedia.

Randall Miller likewise addressed the question of scope as he identified “creativity” as the key descriptor for the Encyclopedia. Miller emphasized the editors’ desire to generate new knowledge and highlight the creativity at work in the field. To this point, it was agreed that the Encyclopedia will be in search of vehicles with which to express that changing history and the new stories emerging from it. In particular, one participant suggested using the Encyclopedia’s online component to capture ephemeral materials like live performances.

The final thoughts of the discussion once again turned to the Encyclopedia’s web component. One participant noted that web sites tend to get a lot of hits in the first three to six months, but that activity tends to fall off after that time without something new and cool to drive traffic. The participant emphasized that web sites are an ongoing commitment and encouraged the editors to “do what they know.” The possibility of creating separate print and online Encyclopedias that complement one another was discussed, as participants argued that there must be a printed work, but an online component would allow it to also be a living, growing document. As the Encyclopedia may be continually edited online, one participant discussed how different media may eventually lead to multiple volumes and ultimately allow the Encyclopedia to remain current as technology inevitably advances beyond current plans.

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