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April 4, 2008

Smith College to Launch Online Encyclopedia

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – From now on, people in the Smith College community looking for information about the institution and its history will have to go no further than their computers.

Smith recently launched its own online encyclopedia, called Smithipedia, to provide a central, accessible location for a variety of information about the college’s past and its traditions.

Some schools, such as Princeton and Brown universities, publish hardcopy books with their historical facts, content that the schools also post online, said College Archivist Nanci Young. But considering the expansive, endless boundaries of history compared with the static, bounded nature of print publications, Smith opted to house its historical information online from the very beginning, she said.

“The Internet is a fantastic tool with access to information,” said Young, who initiated the development of Smithipedia with encouragement from President Carol T. Christ. “We receive a lot of recurring questions that could be answered online.”

Smithipedia panel
President Christ introduces students who contributed to Smithipedia during Celebrating Collaborations, April 12, 2008.

When it is launched on Moodle (the college’s course management system), Smithipedia’s 20 or so entries will be a bit shy of the better-known Wikipedia’s 2 million plus. But both, note their stakeholders, are “still growing.”

Development of the online resource began last semester as the work of STRIDE scholars – five of whom have contributed to the project. With guidance from Young, the scholars investigate and write material for the site.

To date, Smithipedia’s content has been shaped largely by the interests of the students involved. For history major and first-year Fatima Vasconez, that meant pursuing her questions about the history of the single-sex colleges. For sociology major Elsa Rosales, that meant investigating Smith’s racial history.

“Since I'm taking classes about race and its history, and I'm a minority here at Smith, I was eager to learn Smith's racial history,” said Rosales, a sophomore.

Learning how to accurately pursue historical research has been an important part of the process of developing Smithipedia. In addition to Young, the students have learned about the research process from Helen Horowitz, Sydenham C. Parsons Professor of American Studies.

They also heard about Smith’s past directly from a central participant, former president Mary Maples Dunn. Jill Ker Conway is slated to meet with the group next.

Although Smithipedia is currently written by a select group of students and edited by Young, that may not always be the case. The process of adding information is still being determined.

“Frankly, I’d love to open up Smithipedia to departments or student orgs,” said Young. “This work can be a real community-building process.” Ultimately, Young envisions Smithipedia functioning more like Wikipedia, which is open to direct contributions from users.

Smith College educates women of promise for lives of distinction. By linking the power of the liberal arts to excellence in research and scholarship, Smith is developing leaders for society’s challenges. Smith is the largest undergraduate women’s college in the country, enrolling 2,600 students from nearly every state and 61 other countries.


Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Kristen Cole
Media Relations Director
T (413) 585-2190
F (413) 585-2174

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