The rapidly changing future of Oberlin's past is now on view at www.oberlin.edu/~EOG. The Web site, a collaborative effort by a College-town volunteer group, is an electronic chronicle of Oberlin's history--or rather, histories.
The EOG (Electronic Oberlin Group) site displays "multiple Oberlins," said Oberlin College Associate Professor of History Gary Kornblith, co-founder of the project. "Our goal is to celebrate information of all kinds about Oberlin," and in the process "reflect its diverse population and multicultural history."
Just as the EOG site reflects multiple Oberlins, there are multiple ways to experience the site. With one mouse click, an online visitor can enter a carefully documented exhibition on the history of recently renovated Peters Hall, prepared by the College Archives. A click in another place brings up "A Kids' View of Oberlin from Tappan Square: Favorite Buildings of Gail Burton's Class at Eastwood School," featuring quotes and photos from local first and second graders.
"We see our audience as ranging from kids to scholars," said Kornblith. The same range applies to the site's creators. One major informational building block was Oberlin Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, a town history--originally published as a book--put together by students and teachers at Prospect Elementary School. In adapting it for the Web, EOG added links to extra photographs, biographical information on the area's historic figures, and many outside sources of information.
The online edition also lets the editors make constant updates. For example, a recently renovated historic building had just been converted into an arts center when the paper edition was published. A year later, a bell tower was restored to the building, a photograph of which is now included on the Web page. "We had just finished revising the book when EOG started up," said third-grade teacher Gail Wood '70, another early member of the group. "We were going to print and I thought that would be it. Now, with the Web version, it keeps growing. I never anticipated that Oberlin Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow would become such a living, ongoing entity."
Nor are the choices limited to Oberlin-created options. Viewers can scroll through an Oberlin time line in which key events are linked to numerous other Internet sites. From a paragraph on the Oberlin-Wellington Slave Rescue, for example, a visitor can jump to a National Park Service history of the Underground Railroad, a University of Virginia project on the Fugitive Slave Act, or a series of slave narratives collected by the University of North Carolina.
The EOG project started in the summer of 1996. The work group included Oberlin faculty and staff members, teachers at the public schools, a local church official, and staff and volunteers from the public library and the Oberlin Historical and Improvement Organization. With start-up funding from the College and private donations, the EOG Web site went online in the fall of 1996, using space on the college's Web server. In the ensuing months, Oberlin College students did much of the technical work, converting photographs and text for Web use and researching appropriate links.
The Oberlin public schools will all have building-wide Internet access by the end of the fall semester, and Wood anticipates that the content of the EOG Web site will be used more and more in the schools' curriculum. "We're hoping that the site will let teachers integrate Oberlin history into whatever they're teaching," she said. "It could provide relevant material to a class on historical fiction, for example, or on civil rights." And if classes want to do their own research, school projects will be incorporated into the site.
Asked about future additions to the EOG site, Kornblith refused to speculate. "We want to tie the site's development to the needs of K-12 teachers," he said. "But when you're doing things on a voluntary basis, you're somewhat dependent on how excited people get. We'll go where the energy is."
--by John Appley '85
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