Archive for Sunday, April 28, 2002

New Web site to detail KU history

April 28, 2002


Henry Fortunato is helping breathe new life into the musty papers and photographs in the Kansas University archives.

Fortunato, a graduate student in history, is leading a team of historians in launching a major Web site on KU's past.

"I fell in love with seeing the real documents," he said. "I thought, wouldn't it be great if we took the archives to the people?"

The site, www.kuhistory. com, will offer history buffs articles on important events in the history of KU for each day of the year. The site has its test run this week, though it won't be fully operational until this fall.

"This is just the coming attractions," Fortunato said.

Besides articles written by graduate students and contributed from other campus sources, the site includes photographs, links to related sites and transcribed historical documents such as speeches, essays and letters.

The research project also includes the KU History Galleries, a series of about 10 panels to be hung in the Kansas Union on such topics as sports and KU traditions.

The research began last summer and is funded primarily by the Kansas Memorial Unions, which have committed $62,000 for the project. Student Senate provided $15,000, and the university's partnership with Coca-Cola provided $18,750.

Five graduate students have spent hours in the Spencer Research Library combing through old KU papers. Among the articles they've written:

l KU officials considered abolishing the football program in 1910 because they thought it was too violent. Their proposed replacement sport was rugby.

l Chancellor Francis Snow gave speeches in 1894 in which he explained how he had accepted the concept of evolution and the research of Charles Darwin and reconciled them with his religious faith.

l Journalism school students were allowed to take over the Lawrence Daily Journal for a day in 1908. They uncovered several illegal liquor operations in the city.

l German prisoners of war helped at Danforth Chapel in 1945.

l Men conducted a major "panty raid" at a women's dorm in 1952.

The challenge for writers has been to make history appeal to the masses, said John McCool, a graduate student in history who has written about 50 articles for the site.

"We're dealing with a blend between academic writing and journalistic writing," McCool said. "It's sometimes hard to strike that balance."

Ted Wilson, a KU history professor, said the site would offer more detailed information than most books about KU.

"Hopefully this will expand knowledge," he said. "Some of this has been done through the KU alumni magazine or in the Journal-World, in the Lawrence in History column. All of that is clunky in comparison with what's possible these days."

Virgil Dean, a historian with the Kansas State Historical Society and editor of Kansas History magazine, said the site appeared to be the only one of its type among universities. He said it might become a prototype for a similar project involving Kansas history.

Dean said he expected many people  including KU students and alumni  to make the site their home page.

"The more variety of ways you make history available, the more chances you have of reaching greater and greater audiences," he said.

Fortunato, meanwhile, is focused on the test launch of the site this week. He's wanting feedback  both good and bad  for the week's worth of history beginning Monday. Comments can be sent to, or reach Fortunato at 864-2448.

Based on presentations he's made to campus and community groups, Fortunato is convinced the site will be popular.

"There really is an appetite for KU history," he said.

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