Voices Spotlight:

Meet Lynn Nelson

We didn't think we should have a birthday party without introducing the parent! Lynn Nelson, professor of history at the University of Kansas, Internet pioneer, and terror of South Chicago during his elementary school days <smiling>, is the creator and founder of both Early Kansas Imprint Scanners (EKIS) and the Kansas Collection. Lynn's contributions to the Internet, not to mention the preservation of Kansas history, are legendary, and so many of us in his Heritage community owe him our thanks and much much more for giving us the opportunity to take part. It is because of Lynn that we have been able to make this corner of the World Wide Web a haven for everyone who loves history and wants to learn more about Kansas, their forebears, and themselves. We are privileged to introduce to you the founder of EKIS/KanColl, a courteous, talented, witty and generous man:  Lynn Nelson.

"Susan asked me to write something about myself for this birthday issue of Voices and, as many of you have already learned, she is not easily refused.

     "But, now that I've agreed, I scarcely know what to say.

     "I'm really a medieval historian, you know, and I was happily going about my business of medievalizing until 1989, when I read a short article about the 'Internet,' 'discussion lists,' and a number of other things that aroused my curiosity. Big mistake. I doubt if a history of those early days will ever be written, but, if it is, there should be a chapter for the discussion list HISTORY@FINHUTC and its listowner, Thomas Zielke, a young professor at Oldenburg University in Germany.

     "Thomas once mentioned that he was the only son of an only son, and that he himself was childless. Whenever he visited another city, he always checked the telephone book to see if there were any other Zielke's mentioned but there never were. It made him sad to think that he was the last of his name and that it would disappear with him. I e-mailed back to him that I had just been talking that day to Sue Silkey, who worked in the Academic Computing Center, and had just returned from a Silkey family reunion in Western Kansas, where about two hundred of her relatives had gathered. She had also told me that, when her family came to America, they had changed their name from Zielke.

     "Thomas wrote me about twelve hours later to tell me that he had read my note shortly before retiring and had had the most wonderful dream about being in western Kansas, surrounded by hundreds of cousins, nephews and nieces, aunts and uncles. Of course, that was merely an aside and probably makes little impression on genealogists today who are growing accustomed to having great masses of data at their fingertips. It does suggest how much the world has changed, and how quickly it has done so. But back to the point. Thomas was one of the few people back then (all of seven years ago!) who envisioned the effect that could come from computer telecommunications, and he was able to share that vision with a number of us who set to work trying to make it all come true.

     "I won't bore you with a long tale of how it was in the old days. Suffice it to say that, in the summer of 1993, I had History, the second World-Wide Web site, outside of those of the groups who developed the technology, to go into operation. I might add, for the benefit of all Kansans, that the first was KUFacts, here at the University of Kansas. I had the finest product of the latest technology, and there weren't enough hours in the day to do with it what should be done. I might point out that, even then, most people still considered computer telecommunications merely a device with which computer technicians played involved games. Except for scientists and engineers, no one got paid, received released time, or was given assistance to work in the field. So I had this marvelous tool and no time do much more than keep it in readiness to be used.

     "It was then that magic began to happen. First Steve Chinn appeared to take over a section on 'Kansas History and Life' that I had built and to develop into the Kansas Heritage Information Server. When a friend who was working on scanning documents sent me a copy of Kate Stephens' American Thumbprints, I had the start of a library about Kansas, and Dick Taylor suddenly turned up to organize the Early Kansas Imprint Scanners (EKIS) and the Electronic Kansas Collection (KanColl). Then Steve started the Kansas Communities Network (KCN), and people began to join him to take over management of those sites, while Bonnie Bunce organized a massive project for EKIS to put Cutler's History of Kansas on-line, and Carolyn Ward brought her middle-school class into the project and ended up building the Cherokee County site, and Dick was joined by John Matthews and later Susan Stafford at EKIS/KanColl, which allowed Dick to start working on a Nebraska Heritage site, and Connie Snyder began working on the EKIS project Cutler's History of Nebraska, and Steve Chinn was joined by organizations such as the Johnson County Genealogical Society and individuals such as Louis Reed and his Franklin County site, and Judith Glad started adding her postcards to the KanColl graphics collection, and the Kansas Historical Society came of age with a full-time professional staff and turned its site into the finest state and local history web site in the nation, and Susan began Voices, and more people began working with EKIS, and so it's gone.

     "What do I do in all of this? Nothing much, actually.

     "I try to make sure that we have enough room to accommodate the work that people are doing, and I help out from time to time. Of course, I have plenty of other things to do, but, when I have the time, I like to browse through the sites that comprise The Heritage Complex and marvel at the things that people have done, are doing, and are getting ready to do. I wish that Thomas could see it."

                  Lynn Nelson,
                  6 July 1997.

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