Online encyclopedia could link to University resource

Searching for immigration information could lead to a University site.

Cati Vanden Breul

Researchers around the world might soon tap a University Web site when using Encyclopedia Britannica’s online search engine.

The encyclopedia recently selected the University’s Immigration History Research Center Web site as a source for its online edition because of its accurate and thorough content, said Tom Panelas, Encyclopedia Britannica’s corporate communications director.

When someone searches a topic related to immigration, the center’s Web site will be one of a number of links to pop up, Panelas said.

The center was founded in the 1960s as an archival collection of materials on the immigrant workers of the Iron Range, said Donna Gabbacia, director of the center.

“Members of the history department were concerned if the University didn’t collect these materials they’d end up in the trash bin,” Gabbacia said.

Now the center has one of the largest collections of immigration-related research in the world and is used as a resource by scholars worldwide, she said.

The collection focuses on three main parts: migration to Minnesota, migration to the central region of the country and migration to the United States as a whole, she said.

History professor Erika Lee said the ability to work with the center was one of the reasons she decided to teach at the University. Lee has been a member of the center’s advisory board since she joined the University faculty in 1998.

“I wanted to be here because of (the center’s) vibrant collection and its programming not just in history, but in the interdisciplinary study of migration locally, nationally and internationally,” Lee said.

The center is the only one of its kind in the world, she said, and one of the University’s greatest assets.

Lee, a specialist in Asian- American history, often directs her students to the center for their research papers and theses.

“It’s an unprecedented opportunity for students to get their hands dirty in stuff that has really made history,” she said.

Organizations, agencies and scholars often donate materials to the center, including documents on immigrant resettlement patterns, photographs and oral histories, Lee said.

But the center is more than just a research tool, she said. It also sponsors conferences and lectures to engage the public with immigration issues.

Sociology professor Doug Hartmann said the events sponsored by the center help bring together University students and faculty interested in immigration.

“It’s one of the few times we can collaborate in interdisciplinary work,” Hartmann said.

Panelas said Encyclopedia Britannica editors have selected hundreds of thousands of online sources for their search engine. Because the number is so large, the encyclopedia does not typically contact Web site creators.

“There’s simply so many,” Panelas said. “We couldn’t have agreements or communications with all of them. If we chose it, it means it’s good quality and useful.”