UNI to launch online EncyclopedIA next fall, detailing Iowa’s rich history

CEDAR FALLS — Historians at the University of Northern Iowa are taking on the daunting, never-ending task of creating, preserving and sharing a digital history of Iowa, from millennia before Iowa was a state up through modern day.

Professor Jennifer McNabb, who heads UNI’s history department, says it will simply be called EncyclopedIA, with the IA in capital letters.  “It’s a very expansive definition of history that includes the politics of the state,” McNabb says, “its geography, its art and culture and literature and basically every other subject under the Iowa sun.”

An outgrowth of the Teaching Iowa History project, EncyclopedIA promises to be a valuable tool for teachers statewide to use in their classrooms, but it also aims to be a one-stop-shop for anyone wanting to learn about Iowa. “We’re exploring a lot of digital technology to find out how to make this all happen,” McNabb says. “We’re hoping for some 4-D imaging of documents and specific items, specific artifacts that people can see and sort of get up close and personal with on the site.”

As a girl, McNabb recalls her family had a set of World Book encyclopedias, which helped cement her lifelong interest in history. There’s a key difference though when comparing those heavy tomes to the coming online version. “The pictures in World Book don’t come to life. It’s not Harry Potter-style where suddenly, the pictures on the page are moving, but in EncyclopedIA, that’s exactly what we can do,” McNabb says. “We’re taking advantage of various digital technologies and enhancements to bring history alive here in Iowa.”

Many years in the making, the EncyclopedIA project will be an organic, “living entity,” according to McNabb, as it will be a constant work in progress. The initial incarnation is scheduled to go online in the fall of 2022.