Utah historians and history buffs who nurse allergies to dusty shelves and yet continually find themselves thumbing through volume after volume in order to find that one exasperating reference can rejoice. Now they can relax at the computer and find what they need in a keystroke.
An exciting resource has recently hit the streets. Or the Information Highway. It is the "Utah Centennial History Suite," advertised by its manufacturer, Timeless Software in Orem, as "the most comprehensive collection of Utah history available on CD."Max Evans, director of the Utah Historical Society, and Charles Middleton, president of Timeless Software, got their brains together to produce a CD-ROM containing more than 13,000 pages of articles and books taken from the extensive collections of the historical society.
There are also 3,326 photos, maps and drawings and more than 18,000 names and places organized to provide easy access to schools, libraries, historians and genealogists.
The project blends comfortably with the society's mission, "to preserve and share Utah's past for the present and future."
The most useful single resource is the "Utah Historical Quarterly," an illustrated history journal published since 1928. The premiere CD contains over 500 articles and book reviews from 28 of the 65 volumes.
In addition, there are 11 county histories, including Cache, Carbon, Emery, Grand, Rich, Salt Lake, San Juan, Uintah, Wasatch, Washington, and Weber. Individually, these volumes are being sold for $19.95 each in book stores.
By the time the second edition is published next summer, additional volumes of both the quarterly and the county histories will be added. Evans is hopeful that the third edition, two years from now, will include all 65 volumes of the quarterly and all 29 of the county histories.
Currently, there are 15 county histories published, based on a commission provided by the legislature. The historians assigned to each volume must complete their work by June 30, 1999, "or the legislature will pull the plug," according to Evans.
"At least five are in the pipeline for publication now," says Evans. "That is, they're being proofread or are in the final editorial stages. Several others are in the final phase of completion, and only two or three are in doubt. It would be sad if we got only 26 of 29 counties represented in the histories, but I don't think that will happen."
The CD also includes all 22 issues of "Beehive History," an annual publication of short historical highlights and illustrations designed to make Utah history interesting for middle school-aged children and all 24 issues of "History Blazer," a series of historical vignettes about Utah and its people from prehistoric times to the present.
This is not the Historical Society's first experience with electronic pub-lishing. In 1992, the society produced an electronic edition of the "Guide to Archives and Manuscripts in Selected Utah Repositories," a catalog of more than 12,000 manuscript collections.
If the "Utah Centennial History Suite" is well-received, Evans will follow up by placing all books published with the historical society imprint on a CD-ROM, and possibly even add other important historical works now in the public domain.
"Initially," says Evans, "we thought we could produce this CD ourselves. We got volunteers and started organizing, but it soon became clear it was not going to get done very quickly. We talked to a number of vendors who do electronic publishing, but none of them really put together a deal for us except Timeless Software. We are delighted our partnership with Timeless has made this possible."
Timeless is already helping thousands of people preserve family memories through their computer scrapbook and archival programs.
Middleton says, "When the opportunity came to use our technology to help the Society make their historical collections more accessible, we felt this tied in nicely with our corporate mission of `making memories last forever.' Now these prestigious and professional publications are available on CD in an instantly searchable format."
Although Evans admits all historians are not yet comfortable with computers, he hopes this easy access resource will make them think twice. Besides, the market for this product is much wider than those in academia, and includes schools, libraries and anyone who reads Utah history.
In fact, the steadily growing number of historians whose primary interest is Mormon history will find the new resource indispensable. The 600-1,000 historians who gather each year for the Mormon History Association Convention (next May in Ogden) will undoubtedly find innumerable opportunities to tap the information on the CD.
Evans is also confident that when historians see how easy it is to access the authors, subjects and even footnotes along with the text on the CD, they will be as excited as he is.
"What we have in the Utah Historical Quarterly constitutes one of the richest sources of information on Utah history. The trouble is that the early volumes are out of print. Like all historians, I'm always having a memory of having read something somewhere, but it's hard to put my finger on it. Now I can do it easily with this CD."
Evans is convinced that the Centennial Suite and the editions to follow "will be one of the most important contributions the Utah State Historical Society can make to understanding our past."
(The suggested retail price of the Utah Centennial History Suite is $39.95. It is being sold at the Utah Historical Society Bookshop, downtown Salt Lake City, at Deseret Book and other bookstores, or from Timeless Software by calling 888-327-6427.)