This year is the 20th anniversary of the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO).
GAMEO (pronounced găm-e-o) descends from two earlier projects. The first is well-known–the five-volume Mennonite Encyclopedia that was published from 1955 to 1959, with a supplementary fifth volume in 1990. It began as the brainchild of Prof. C. Henry Smith, who suggested in 1945 that an inter-Mennonite group of American Mennonite scholars translate and expand the earlier volumes of the Mennonitisches Lexikon published by European Mennonites. Even though Smith died in 1948, Harold Bender and Cornelius Krahn brought the vision to fruition. Cornelius J. Dyck and Dennis Martin brought the supplemental volume to completion in 1990.
The second project related to the three-volume Mennonites in Canada history series sponsored by the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada (MHSC) from 1968 to 1996.
In the mid-1980s, Marlene Epp, presently a Professor of History at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, was a research associate for her father, Frank H. Epp. He was then preparing to write a third volume in the series. Both Frank and Marlene were based at Conrad Grebel.
Frank Epp died in early 1986 while awaiting a heart transplant. This suspended the writing project until Ted D. Regehr of the University of Saskatchewan was identified as the author for the third volume. Marlene Epp continued as research associate for the project, and spent much of her time developing databases of information on Canadian Mennonites — on congregations, institutions, conferences, businesses, periodicals and biographies. By far the largest of these databases was the one on congregations. It included basic information on 1200 Canadian Mennonite congregations, some of which no longer existed.
In 1987 the MHSC created a database committee to consider how best to utilize this wealth of material. The committee members were archivists at three Mennonite historical centers in Canada (Bert Friesen, chair; Sam Steiner, Lawrence Klippenstein, Ken Reddig) plus Ted Regehr, the vol. 3 author and Marlene Epp. Already in early 1988 Marlene Epp mentioned the possibility of a Canadian Mennonite Encyclopedia.
Since the World Wide Web was not yet available, discussion within the committee focused primarily on how to make this electronic data available at the various Mennonite historical research centers in Canada.
Finally in 1995 the MHSC authorized a committee to study the feasibility of loading the database onto the Web. In 1996, with the assistance of the University of Waterloo Library, Sam Steiner, then the librarian-archivist at Conrad Grebel College, loaded a prototype Canadian Mennonite Encyclopedia utilizing the congregational database onto an MHSC website hosted by the university library. At the end of 1996 it contained 550 brief congregational articles.
In March 1998, MHSC obtained permission from Herald Press (Scottdale, Pennsylvania) and the Institute of Mennonite Studies (Elkhart, Indiana) to digitize the print Mennonite Encyclopedia. The project also received a significant Canadian government grant that year to facilitate the work. In the initial year Sam Steiner selected Canadian-related articles from the print encyclopedia for copying and adding to the website. Because of his technical work on the website, Steiner became identified as the managing editor.
Finally, in 2004 it occurred to the encyclopedia’s editorial board (still composed of representatives from various Canadian Mennonite archives) that this could become a larger project that was worldwide in scope.
In 2005 the name changed to Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Volunteers from Mennonite archives throughout North America began to scan and proofread sections of the print Encyclopedia. They forwarded the articles to Waterloo for loading onto the site, hosted after 1998 on Conrad Grebel College’s own server. By the end of 2005 there were 2,700 articles on GAMEO. In 2008 web hosting moved from the College to Peaceworks Computer Consulting (now Peaceworks Technology Solutions), a firm that has provided software support to GAMEO from the late 1990s.
In 2005 two partners — the Mennonite Brethren Historical Commission and the Mennonite Church USA Historical Committee — joined the project. Mennonite Central Committee joined the partnership in early 2006, Mennonite World Conference joined in January 2007 and the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism (Goshen, Indiana) in October 2011.
In 2012 GAMEO shifted its financial relationship from the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada to Mennonite World Conference. A management board composed of representatives of all the partners gives oversight to GAMEO. Bert Friesen remained chair of the management board in 2015. Richard Thiessen of Abbotsford, British Columbia became managing editor in 2012. In 2015 there were over 15,900 articles in GAMEO.
GAMEO was invaluable in the research for In Search of Promised Lands. Visit GAMEO if you have not already done so.