An encyclopedic look
at the Empire State
Despite its long and colorful history, there has never been an encyclopedia about the Empire State. That will change in 2002, when SU Press publishes the Encyclopedia of New York State. “It will be a valuable resource for teachers, students, and researchers,” says Peter Eisenstadt, the encyclopedia’s editor.
The one-volume printed edition is expected to run 1,500 pages with about 3,800 entries. There will be a CD-ROM version of the publication, a web site that will update and expand the encyclopedia, and a teacher’s manual with primary source documents and other materials.
“This is a big project for us and we are very excited about it,” says Robert Mandel, director of SU Press. “It will have a major impact on New York State. We believe the encyclopedia will create a renaissance on writings about New York.”
To keep the cost of the volume affordable—at about $50 to $60 per copy—the press needed funding to underwrite the publication. Support came in 1998, when New York State Senator John DeFrancisco of Syracuse secured state funding for the encyclopedia for one year with the promise of two more years. “Then we were in business,” Eisenstadt says.
Eisenstadt works with a staff of five, mostly doctoral candidates from the State University of New York at Albany, in an office located in the Cultural Education Center in Albany’s Empire State Plaza. “We are working closely with the New York State Department of Education,” he says. “Part of our agreement for office space here was that one free copy of the book would be distributed to every public library system in New York State. We are very interested in the book’s educational potential and would like to see it as part of an invigoration of the teaching of New York State history within the Regents curriculum in New York.”
Eisenstadt expects about 600 leading experts from a variety of fields to contribute to the publication. “We are working with an editorial board of nearly 50 experts on broader fields and regions in New York State history, such as African American art, Central New York, and Long Island,” he says. “They are advising us on what to include and whom to contact.”
One of the project’s biggest challenges is paring down the wealth of information. “Selectivity is a real problem,” Eisenstadt says. “Getting this down to about 3,800 entries is a tremendous task. There are, for instance, more than 3,600 inhabited places in New York State and we’ll only be able to include a small fraction of the cities, towns, and villages. In all areas, we have to make a lot of tough choices about what to include and exclude.”
Eisenstadt enjoys working with SU Press on the project. “To me, SU Press is a natural for this encyclopedia,” he says. “There is no academic press more identified with serious scholarship of the history of New York State over the past half century.”