May 26, 2004

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Contact: Victor Bailey, Hall Center for the Humanities, (785) 864-3884.

Launch of Kansas history Web site will coincide with state sesquicentennial

LAWRENCE -- Just in time for the sesquicentennial of the Kansas Territory and the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the pilot version of a dynamic new Web site focused on Kansas history and developed at the University of Kansas will launch May 27.

Called KansasHistoryOnline, www.kansashistoryonline.org, the project was conceived and developed by many of the same people who created This Week in KU History, which went live in November 2002 and is located at www.kuhistory.com.

As with This Week in KU History, KansasHistoryOnline combines scholarly methodology with magazine-style journalism to give site visitors highly readable content that reflects academic standards. KansasHistoryOnline is a project of the Hall Center for the Humanities at KU and of the Kansas State Historical Society.

"The pilot version is simply a demonstration of what we intend will someday be a much larger site," said Victor Bailey, director of the Hall Center. "But even this initial sample contains a degree of sophistication, design quality and technological excellence that most state Web site histories do not possess. We're confident that KansasHistoryOnline can become a major contribution to the evolving practice of e-history, and in the process, KU can become a leader in this field."

Visitors to the pilot of KansasHistoryOnline will find a daily listing of key dates in Kansas history and sample articles in two themed sections directly accessible from the home page. One focuses on the "Bleeding Kansas" period and was underwritten by a grant from the Kansas Humanities Council. The other is called "Quintessential Kansas" and details the peculiarities of the state and its people. Individual articles also contain links to related articles within the site, primary source documents, lists of recommended readings, and Kansas travel destinations such as museums and points of interest related to a given article.

Although the site's creators are enthusiastic about Kansas history, they warn that KansasHistoryOnline isn't a celebration. Instead, they say, it's an objective, sometimes wry interpretation of the state's past, "warts and all."

The site's project director and editor-in-chief is Henry Fortunato, who completed a master's degree in American history at KU this year and directs This Week in KU History. Fortunato originally proposed the idea for KansasHistoryOnline in spring 2000 and had begun working on initial research and a mockup when two unrelated events caused him to shift course.

"Once we got into it, we realized KansasHistoryOnline was going to be a far more complicated undertaking than we had originally anticipated," said Fortunato. "At the same time, the KU Memorial Unions expressed interest in doing what eventually evolved into This Week in KU History. It became apparent that the KU version, with its more contained scope, offered an excellent opportunity to test the concept, and indeed, all the lessons learned from that project have been applied to KansasHistoryOnline."

Fortunato is managing a team of doctoral candidates and other contributors who are writing the core content for the site. Most of the images come from the state historical society. An advisory board composed of leading historians from KU, Wichita State University and the Kansas State Historical Society counsel on potential subject matter and review completed articles before they go online.

"This project has always appealed to me because of its potential for reaching a broad audience of lifetime learners," said Bailey. "Lectures and workshops are useful formats for public outreach, but the lasting effects are nominal. With KansasHistoryOnline, we can achieve a level of accessibility and permanence that only the Internet can provide."

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