Encyclopedia of Cleveland History gets a new, contemporary look

History is constantly changing, and now The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History is updating itself as well.

Launched in 1998 as an online publication after more than 10 years in print, The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History added many new articles but kept a similar look over the years.

That all changed when the encyclopedia, run by Case Western Reserve University’s Department of History and the Western Reserve Historical Society, got a facelift. The new site, still at ech.case.edu, reflects the expanded content of articles and will better showcase the new historic photographs of Cleveland that will be incorporated throughout the next year. Additionally, the website now includes a map section with links to a number of map archives for guests to access.

“The new design is largely a cosmetic change for ECH, making it more contemporary,” said John Grabowski, the encyclopedia’s editor. “But cosmetic surgery is good. Now we have a 21st century look.”

Just about everything one might want to know about Cleveland’s past events and people can be accessed in the 4,370 articles, enhanced with additional links to community organizations and websites, said Grabowski, the Krieger-Mueller Associate Professor of Applied History at Case Western Reserve and vice president of collections at the historical society.

Popular topics for ECH website visitors are information on Cleveland’s notorious torso murders, its rich and diverse ethnic history, the people from various communities and neighborhoods, and Cleveland’s cultural arts scene, which gave birth to a world-renowned orchestra and art museum. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History averages 95,000 to 100,000 page views each month.

The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History’s hardcover edition made history in 1987 as the first modern American city encyclopedia. It was founded and organized by the late Case Western Reserve history professor David Van Tassel, who is known as the father of National History Day.

Grabowski assisted with the first hardcover edition and served as one of the editors of the encyclopedia’s second hard-copy edition.

Accompanying the second edition in 1996 was The Dictionary of Cleveland Biography—but those were the last hard-copy editions for both. They now both exist online.

“No sooner did Indiana University Press publish the encyclopedia than it was out of date,” said Grabowski. He assumed leadership of the encyclopedia after Van Tassel’s death in 2000.

With the advent of the Internet and its ability to display vast amounts of updated information, the editors envisioned a Web-based encyclopedia that could evolve along with an ever-changing city.

Although Case Western Reserve takes the lead on the project and houses its office, much of the research and visual content derives from the collections of the Western Reserve Historical Society and is supported with manpower from the Ralph Besse Fellows, graduate students in history dedicated solely to keeping the information current and accurate as well as creating new articles in their areas of subject specialty.

Information about the city’s rich history continues to be a few clicks away—but now, with its new look, it’s much easier to enjoy, Grabowski said.