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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

How To Use This Resource

Following standards and patterns established during the past decade by other state and regional history encyclopedias, the Oklahoma book’s general organization of information is strictly alphabetical. In function, however, twenty-six themes, representing essential, broad concepts, are the upper level of a three-level system of cross-referenced subjects:

African Americans
American Indians
Arts and Humanities
Civil War Era
Environment and Cultural Ecology
European Exploration
Government and Politics
Military–Nineteenth Century
Natural Resources
Oklahoma Economy
Petroleum Industry
Prehistoric Native Peoples
Recreation and Entertainment
Settlement Patterns
Territorial Era
Twentieth Century
Urban Development
Westward Expansion

In creating of the outline of ideas for each of the themes, the foremost concern was to identify the kinds of words or phrases for which a typical student or reader will search first, and then to provide appropriate links to the broader or narrower entries. We anticipate that the user will look up a specific topic and then browse upward or downward a level within the rubric, or even move obliquely to a collateral topic in another rubric. Some call this a “subject pyramid.” Following each entry is a list of cross-references, either to more extensive but general essays or “context” articles or to shorter, more specific entries. A reader may move “vertically” through a rubric or move “laterally” into entries in other rubrics.

Each overview, an essay generally about 2,000 words in length, is interpretive in nature, rather than strictly factual, and is chronological in arrangement. A major purpose of each essay is to place its theme within the state’s general historical context, to inform the topic with recent scholarship, and to illustrate important  linkages to the other themes/rubrics and to western and national history. The essays are also intended to be inclusive of gender, race, and ethnicity and to portray negative as well as positive developments within the theme. In some cases, the length of an essay indicates that fewer topics in that theme were called out for individual investigation. Each essay offers an extensive bibliography for further reading.

At mid-level, articles (ranging from 1,000 to 1,500 words but generally 1,000 words) further investigate broad topics linked to each rubric and identified within each essay. Articles are narrower in scope than essays but are more general and interpretive than specific entries. Cross-references guide the reader to specific entries, as well as to related articles and essays. Entries (of 250 to 750 words but generally averaging about 500 words) deal with specific people, places, events, institutions, and so forth.

The encyclopedia’s practical task is to move the reader upward from the facts about a specific individual or single event and into an understanding of the surrounding context(s). For example, cross-references within the entry “LaFortune, Robert” (an oilman, business developer, and long-time mayor of Tulsa), can lead the reader to the petroleum essay, to the extensive Tulsa and Tulsa County entries under the urban development and government/politics rubrics, and to entries on Urban Renewal and Outdoor Sculpture, two programs in which he was instrumental. This is the way in which a reader will move through the encyclopedia, because it generally mimics the mind’s logical processes of specific searching or browsing.

It is the hope of the editorial staff, scholars, and other contributors that consulting The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture will engage a reader’s interest and stimulate further investigation of a topic. Therefore, each entry offers a bibliography of suggested reading. The bibliography is not intended as a “footnote” for the entry but includes literature that a reader can access with relative ease at a local or regional library. Finally, each entry is signed by its author.

An encyclopedia is defined as much by what it is not as by what it is. The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture is not an almanac, defined by Webster as a compilation of statistics and general information relating to a defined period of time. For that type of material, readers should consult the Oklahoma Almanac, published biannually by the Oklahoma Department of Libraries.

The criteria for including a topic in The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture were based on the concept of significance in national, regional, or statewide history and for significant association with one (or more) of the rubrics. Consultants and staff measured the proposed topics against the criteria.

As a general rule, there are very few entries of strictly local significance, other than those dealing with county, county seat, and town history. Each of Oklahoma’s 77 counties and almost 600 incorporated towns are included. Locally significant people, places, events, institutions, and so forth are, we hope, mentioned in the appropriate county or town entry. (For other information on local topics, readers are advised to consult the many excellent county histories that have been published during the past thirty years.) This method of analysis and classification was adapted from the model provided by the Secretary of the Interior’s guidelines and criteria for evaluating and establishing the significance of historic resources and also follows the models established in several state encyclopedias produced in the 1990s and 2000s.

Geographical and biographical entries are thus restricted to those of larger historical significance. Biographies were prepared for significant individuals born in Oklahoma, or whose formative years, in terms of significant skills and talents, were spent in Oklahoma, or whose best and most significant work was accomplished while residing here. Candidates for inclusion generally must have been deceased, although there are a few exceptions.

Assessing the relative strength of each proposed entry enabled the staff to gauge the appropriate word-length of the contribution. We attempted to include as many topics as viable within the limitations of research resources, availability of writers, and book length. Encyclopedias are in many ways standardized, but they also tend to be somewhat idiosyncratic, and ours is no exception to that generalization. In the process of developing criteria or selecting for inclusion, the editor takes responsibility for errors or presumed errors of omission.