As a grade-school student in Alabama, you might have learned that the state bird is the yellowhammer or that the state flower is the camellia, but did you know that the eastern tiger swallowtail is the official mascot and butterfly of the state of Alabama or that the official state barbecue championship is the Demopolis Christmas on the River Cook-off?
These facts and others about the state can be found in the Encyclopedia of Alabama, a free, online resource dedicated to sharing the stories of the people, places, history and culture of Alabama.
A collaboration involving Auburn University, the Alabama State Department of Education and the University of Alabama, the Encyclopedia of Alabama's editorial office is housed at Auburn University and is supported by the Office of University Outreach in partnership with University Libraries and the Office of Information Technology. Now in its sixth year as the most comprehensive online publication about the state of Alabama, it includes more than 1,500 articles written by experts and researchers from around the country.
"At the turn of the new century, the University of Alabama Press and the Alabama Humanities Foundation realized that the last time a comprehensive encyclopedia-type publication involving Alabama had been published was 1921," said Laura Hill, communications editor for the Encyclopedia of Alabama.
The resource needed to be updated, and it was decided that it should become an online publication for broader access and to make it easier to maintain over time.
"We set a launch date and determined that we needed 500 articles to begin with," Hill said. "We sat down with content editors and decided on the articles we needed in order to be a credible resource about the state."
Articles are written and contributed by scholars and experts in the respective subjects, but are edited so they are accessible to the public.
"We want our articles to be readable for the general public, so we aim for the same standard as the New York Times does, which is about a tenth-grade level," Hill said. "Some articles are more difficult to make that way, but that is our goal."
Hill said usually five or six articles are published and added to the site each week. When the Encyclopedia of Alabama launched, they began with a focus on the subjects people would expect: state capitals, famous people associated with the state, governors and the counties.
"We launched with articles on all the counties, then we did all the county seats and the largest cities, and we're working our way down and concentrating on getting to all the towns in Alabama," Hill said. ""Not all of them have histories written about them, so we have to do a lot of digging."
In 2013, visitors to the site from around the world searched for information on the Scottsboro trials, Harper Lee, segregation, the Birmingham Campaign of 1963 and agriculture in Alabama. Visitors from within the state of Alabama accessed articles on the birds, minerals, insects and fishes of Alabama and agriculture in Alabama.
"Our primary users are students," Hill said. "We know this because we track our visitation and can see it starting to climb as the school year starts, then it spikes toward the end of the year when all the projects are due, and then we have a lull in the summer months. Students across the country, not just in Alabama, are coming to look at our content. We're also used by professors, teachers and genealogists; we get a lot of inquiries from people researching their family histories."
Over the next year, staff with the Encyclopedia of Alabama will be working to launch a website with a new look. The content and functions will remain the same, but the new look will be more conducive to use on mobile devices and larger monitors. A teachers' site that's specifically aligned to the course of study standards in the state is also being developed.
"I have always been drawn to the humanities," Hill said. "When you think of the encyclopedia, you often think of history, but we have articles on archaeology, geography, soils, dinosaurs, plants – and it's all there and connected. I've always been drawn to sharing how things are connected with people, and this is the best way for us to share those connections because it's free for everyone, it's about Alabama, and we can help change perceptions – or influence them – about this state. And it's all right there in the Encyclopedia of Alabama."
— By Carol Nelson, Office of Communications & Marketing
Last Updated: Dec. 20, 2013