The History of the Kansas Heritage Information Server And How Something in Kansas Ended up as GWPDA

The Kansas Heritage Information Server (a.k.a. Kansas Heritage) as a concept began in 1976 or 1977 when Stephen Chinn's 6th Grade teacher, Mrs. Marchel, gave a family history assignment to her students. The idea was to write a report about roots and share it with the class. Steve still has a mental image of standing in front of the room and reading the words written on the paper. (Little Stephen of course is an exemplar. This was an assignment customary of the era...)

About 18 years later, Lynn Nelson (our Owner - the man who raised his hand when Tim Berners-Lee asked if anybody wanted to do anything with the keen new toy called the 'Web') built a section on Kansas History and Life (a.k.a. Kansas On-Line) in 1993. (Thus, finally using the University of Kansas computers for something other than keeping roll, adding figures and generally taking up space.) Stephen Chinn contributed several articles to Kansas On-Line including the Kansas Pioneers List.

Kansas History and Life developed into the Kansas Heritage Information Server which Lynn Nelson created before 19 January 1994. Stephen Chinn took over Kansas On-Line after 28 Mar 1994, and the electronic texts stored there became the foundation for Kansas Heritage and the Kansas Collection site which Lynn Nelson also established.

The ball started rolling 1 July 1994, when Chinn began fine-tuning the concept. The original full name of the site was The Center for Kansas Genealogy, Family and Local History, and the original nickname of the site was just Heritage. As things progressed, the names were changed to The Kansas Heritage Center for Family and Local History and Kansas Heritage respectively. Recently the site has been referred to as the Kansas Heritage Information Server. (Or that huge site that is in of all places Kansas!)

The Kansas Pioneers List (KPL) project was established before 27 March 1994. It is difficult to say exactly when the Kansas Pioneers List was created, but it is likely that this occurred some time in 1993. The KPL was publicized through Roots-L early on, and the files were originally archived on Later on, the KPL was also promoted on Kansas-L, and the files were eventually archived in Kansas On-Line. The KPL project was one of the first Kansas Heritage projects.

The One-Room School House (ORSH) project was created before 1 July 1994 according to correspondence from Lynn Nelson.

An index contributed 5 July 1994 by Adell Carr Smith for "Rural Schools of Douglas County, Kansas" written by Goldie Piper Daniels was prepared for Web publication 11 July 1994.

A letter dated 12 July 1994 is from Vera Ellerman Rodecap regarding her book, "The Country Schoolteacher, A Kansas Legacy," published in November 1993.

29 October 1996 Gary Funk and Rich Bicker of the faculty of Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas took over the ORSH project. Their site is the Heritage center for the development of studies and presentations on the One-Room School House.

Stephen Chinn had several relatives who were teachers at these one-room schools, and hence this was the primary reason for doing the project. The ORSH project was one of the first Kansas Heritage projects.

The Kansas State Historical Society (KSHS) site was created 21 January 1994 by Lynn Nelson. A week later the site was up. (Which should give you some idea of both the realtime nature of webwork and of the degree of energy involved.) The Kansas State Historical Society site became the first state and/or local history society anywhere to be online. Peter Thomas and David Miller developed the original pages based on materials supplied by the KSHS. Lynn Nelson also spent some time preparing materials. Stephen Chinn took over management duties and spent a lot of time on his own and together with David Haury in getting the site ready to be taken over by the KSHS. The KSHS Web team took over the site before 18 April 1997 and turned the site into the finest state and local history Web site in the nation. (Not to be immodest of course.)

The society directory on Kansas Heritage was created 15 February 1994 for genealogical and historical societies. Not long after that Ken Leonard took over the site and brought the Johnson County Genealogical Society online. The Kansas State Historical Society contributed their "Directory of Historical and Genealogical Societies, Museums, and Cultural Organizations in Kansas 1995" compiled by Mary M. Flott, and this publication was loaded on the server after 10 March 1995.

The families directory on Kansas Heritage was created before 16 February 1994 for Kansas Family History.

The Sunflower Journeys (SJ) site was built in 1994 by Stephen Chinn together with Dave Kendall, series producer. The SJ site was one of the first Web sites on Kansas Heritage, and it was the first Web site for a public television program. Dave Kendall took over the SJ site after it was constructed. 16 May 1997 the Sunflower Journeys site moved to the KTWU server at Washburn University.

Early Kansas Imprint Scanners (EKIS) began to develop in 1994. Lynn Nelson and Stephen Chinn were the first members. Lynn Nelson did most of the material acquisition and scanning early on. (He had the best scanner.)

Stephen Chinn was the first EKIS manager. Steve helped coordinate the early EKIS volunteers, scanned in several articles, transcribed some texts himself, and coded some materials for Web presentation.

The early EKIS documents were stored on Kansas Heritage, and Stephen Chinn developed a small Web site to help the volunteers "how to" and attempt to keep projects organized.

Dick Taylor took over Early Kansas Imprint Scanners in 1995.

The Historical Directory of Kansas Towns (HDKT) was created 24 December 1993, though materials for the HDKT project were gathered before then. A letter dated 10 January 1992 has been found from the Morris County Historical Society regarding Morris County history and genealogy, and another letter dated 24 September 1993 from the Morris County Genealogical Society regarding the Slough Creek Community has turned up. Stephen Chinn obtained permission from Dorothy Gallaway to use materials from her book, "Dwight Kansas, the First 100 Years," for the HDKT project.

The Morris County materials later became part of the Council Grove Community Network. Though the Abilene Community Network was the first Kansas Community Network (KCN) to be developed as a Web site. Pamela Sexton was manager of the Abilene Community Network site 28 April 1996 when it received the NSBOL Community Spotlight for the Week Award.

Later on a KCN Web site was created for each county seat. The original emphasis was on family history and local history. Kansas Community Network expansion began 17 July 1996 when volunteers were recruited to take over management of KCN sites. The result has been that the communities of Kansas have developed their own locally-run community network much faster than would have been the case otherwise.

Nancy Sween joined the Kansas Heritage team in 1995.

Nancy expanded the genealogy aspect when she created her Interactive Genealogy site on another server and later moved the site to Kansas heritage.

Nancy also made a significant contribution to Kansas Heritage when she created a Santa Fe Trail site.

Morris Werner, on 28 October 1995 granted Kansas Heritage permission to place a copy of his book, "Pioneer Trails from U.S. Land Surveys," on the Kansas Heritage Information Server. Morris says, "My research extends to all emigrant and military trails plotted by the Kansas Territorial Surveys of 1855-65."

Morris Werner sent Stephen Chinn a diskette with some articles from the book, and Steve scanned in the rest of the text. Steve never finished proofreading the text, but a large portion of this material is online. (the chronic problem of course. Make a note.)

What on Earth has This to do with The Great War?

Right, here's the rest of the story as it applies to the Great War Primary Documents Archive, most often known as WWI/WWW.

At the tail end of 1993, Jane Plotke, immured in an absolutely tiresome job as a computer specialist for the government, which wasted all the training and skills as an historian she'd managed to pick up through a great deal of education, was introduced to the glories of telecommunication, freenets and gophers. Sitting in front of her computer one day playing around with various access channels (and no, there wasn't a great deal available yet), she stumbled across the MILHST-L discussion group. (Yes, it was run then as now by Pat Hughes.) Thinking it might not be a bad thing to at least pretend to be keeping in her hand as an historian, she joined and was, within about a week, so thoroughly flamed as to unsubscribe immediately.

So were a number of other people - it was a pretty rowdy place. Fortunately, Steve Baldwin, writing from England, was equally incensed, and more importantly had a really good idea. What if, he said, we started our own list just about World War I? Being something of a sucker, Plotke said sure - how? So Steve went browsing around and discovered that the fellow who seemed to be in the center of all this military discussion list business was named Lynn Nelson, was at University of Kansas, and was prepared to help us make a WWI list.

So we did. That's how it started.

In mid-1994, Plotke got a terrific opportunity to go work as an historian for the Army (which is really all anyone needs to know), and pulled up stakes to go to Leavenworth, Kansas. Normally this wouldn't be regarded as a real coup, but you must all remember that the University of Kansas is just up the road from Leavenworth, and quite suddenly, there were all the people who had before only been pixels on a screen. And it seemed that Pat Hughes was also an historian there, which pretty much concentrated the work of the military history discussion listowners all in one place.

More, it was just at this time (see above) that Lynn Nelson was really beginning to play with the Web, searching for means of adding content in a systematic and scholarly fashion.

Mafia, Heritage and What We Say When We are Being Formal

Forming part of an obscure little group, generally referred to by the codename 'mafia', which met on Thursday nights at Lynn's kitchen table, various technical responses were worked out, various problems on how to do things were fixed, sites erected, community organisations contacted. After the first of the year in 1995, Plotke began to have the beginnings of an idea of what might be possible for her own particular field of history. What if someone were to put on the Web the original documents concerning World War I? After all, most of these things are invisible now - Plotke noted that much of what she'd been reading recently was quoting quotations - it looked as though few scholars had ever actually read the documents they were citing, and besides; none of them were copyrighted. Why not?

In the fall of that year, finding herself with some free time, Plotke began aquiring the kinds of things she had in mind. There would be the treaties for example. Other things referenced but seldom seen. The design and order of the site was decided, and the basis of organisation. There was a lot of typing.

In November, 1995, Lynn suggested that perhaps it made sense to house WWI on another server, since it wasn't clear whether UKans would be able to offer the kind of room we would need. Richard Hacken, of BYU agreed that WWI could be at least half on the BYU servers - UKans would retain the rest.

That made the first recruit.

That November 1995, shamelessly using the power and reach of WWI-L, Plotke began to announce the existence of the site. Not that there was much there, but by twinning it to WWI-L it seemed to tap into a good group who were already fairly knowledgeable technologically and might at the same time share the responsibility.

The second and third recruits, Alan Albright and Micheal Shackleford (although who was first among equals it is not recalled) raised their hands then. Alan thought he might be able to lay his hands on a few bits and pieces, and he had a scanner. Micheal, a graphics god, wanted not only to contribute information, but the whole design of the site (which was pretty scruffy at the time).

By the official opening of WWI/WWW in February 1996 (after being online from the previous November), we were one of the very first purely document-based sites on the web, one of the very first which maintained a scholarly perspective rather than that of buffs, and surely one of the very first to do all of these things without anyone sponsoring, paying or supporting us. According to PCWorld we were the sixty-fifth site on the World Wide Web (not involving kitties, government or corporate sales).

We still are.

Hack, Alan and Micheal are all still here. We've added Bill Schliehauf for boats and Geoff Miller for medicine. And as of this particular moment, when students, scholars, amateurs and professionals want to know something about the Great War they can use the Web to do it. When, schoolchildren in Kenya or Hong Kong need material for a report, or historians in London need a quick reference, or lawyers in Los Angeles need to refer to an international treaty or indeed; when the Government requires instruction on how Bosnia was handled the last time - they can use the Web to help them.

We're very proud to be of service.

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