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As one of four senior editors spearheading the publication of the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee, Marquette University history professor James Marten insists that we are witnessing a “golden age of encyclopedias,” with no small thanks due to the Web. The tome’s print edition (coming after the Encyclopedia Britannica released its last dead tree version in 2010) won’t appear until 2017, but a website in beta form, to be announced on the project’s Facebook page, will go live before the end of the year and serve as a dynamic resource both before and after the book’s formal publication.
Although the idea for a Milwaukee-obsessed encyclopedia has long festered in the back of Marten’s mind, we may ultimately have Chicago to thank for advancing the idea. While doing graduate work at Chicago’s Newberry Library in the late ’90s, lead editor Amanda Seligman, now a history professor at UW-Milwaukee, saw firsthand the work needed to realize Second City’s encyclopedia.
She gathered enough gumption to lead Milwaukee’s existing effort after putting down some roots here. “I’m glad someone else is doing this [project] so I don’t have to,” Marten said when Seligman approached him, “but I’d be tickled to be involved with it.”
Tickled here may be a relative term. With more than 700 entries – whittled down from an even larger selection during a series of nine four-hour meetings – the ambitious project seeks to be comprehensive while also allowing for expansion online.
“This is a way people can share their excitement about Milwaukee history,” says Seligman, who’s mired in assigning and editing the entries, which range in length from 100 words to more than 3,000. “Urban encyclopedias are a new kind of civic institution.”