UCR Professor Edits New Encyclopedia on Multiculturalism in America

Carlos Cortés, professor emeritus of history, worked as lead editor for "Multicultural America: A Multimedia Encyclopedia"

Carlos Cortes

Carlos Cortes, professor emeritus of history, holds a copy of “Multicultural America: A Multimedia Encyclopedia,” for which he served as lead editor.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — When the editorial team at Golson Media were looking to create a modern encyclopedia on race and ethnicity in America, they needed an expert in the field and there was just one name that kept appearing in their searches: Carlos Cortés.

Cortés, a professor emeritus of history at the University of California, Riverside, is an internationally-renowned scholar of race and ethnicity and has been writing and teaching on the topic for decades. In addition to his scholarly publications and work as a consultant to government agencies, universities and private businesses, Cortés also serves as the creative and cultural adviser for Nickelodeon’s “Dora the Explorer,” and its sequel, “Go, Diego, Go!”

So on July 4, 2011, when Golson Media contacted Cortés with an idea for a book on race in America, an intrigued Cortés agreed to work as lead editor for their encyclopedia, “Multicultural America: A Multimedia Encyclopedia,” a four-volume encyclopedia that examines historical and contemporary issues of race and ethnicity in America. Published in September 2013, the encyclopedia is available in hard copy and accessible online. It is composed of 915 entries and contains numerous pictures, videos and other multimedia throughout.

An Encyclopedia for the Digital Age

The overall structure and content of the encyclopedia is unique in its focus and approach.

The first part of the encyclopedia examines both the 2010 U.S. Census in detail and delves into the history of U.S. Census racial categories and how the categories have changed over time. The second part consists of entries in alphabetical order.

About a quarter of the entries are about specific racial groups, with more than 150 ethnic groups discussed in the encyclopedia. Many of the entries are intersectional (examining the causes and outcomes of different social categories intersecting, such as religion, disability, or sexual orientation with ethnic diversity), while others discuss specific wars, court cases, treaties, cultural rituals and practices and how each relates to a multicultural America.

“This is one of the first encyclopedias to look at the ‘cross-cutting’ factors involved in race and ethnicity in America,” Cortés said.

Inspired in part by the 2010 U.S. Census and by the changing racial and ethnic make-up of the nation, Cortés sought to rethink scholarly ways of looking at race, while still illuminating current issues and historical controversies for a younger, broader audience.

To that end, the contributors synthesized a variety of academic literature for the entries and Cortés created a unique framework through his concept of “multiculturation,” a conflation of the words ‘multiple’ and ‘acculturation.’ Through the lens of Cortés’s “multiculturation,” the encyclopedia broadens its scope while maintaining a clear focus.

“The overall voice and style of the writing is very accessible,” Cortés said, adding that the style is well-suited to undergraduate students and classes.

Virtual Collaboration

Work on the encyclopedia was facilitated by Golson Media, a virtual editorial content producer based in New York that worked with Sage Publications, Cortés and other writers to create content for the encyclopedia.

Through an unconventional process, Cortés collaborated with the writers and authors without ever actually meeting any of them in person. An online administrative team from Golson Media served as assistants to Cortés, who recommended different authors and topics to them for the encyclopedia. Cortés, who wrote the encyclopedia’s introduction and selected and edited all the entries, primarily worked with authors to make their entries more clear and relevant.

“[Golson Media] had a team of editors and fact checkers doing a lot of the copy and line editing,” Cortés said, praising the high level of technical quality in the work of the staff.

For Cortés, work on the encyclopedia always presented new, sometimes daunting challenges.

“I felt like Dwight Eisenhower on the eve of the invasion of Europe,” Cortés said. “I never knew what each day had to offer.”

On a daily basis, Cortés had to check his account on Sage’s website, which functions as a content management system like WordPress, Drupal or Joomla. He spent hours each day dealing with multiple queries and editing entries for clarity. The total amount of time spent working on the encyclopedia was 26 months.

“A Living Field of Thought”

For all his work on the encyclopedia and attempts to push the subject further, Cortés feels that the encyclopedia is a step beyond what it was and functions more like a “living encyclopedia.”

“It’s necessary that we retool our frames for viewing ethnic diversity. We need new dynamic paradigms to make things relevant,” said Cortés. “I wanted to engage a living field of thought.”

Cortés realized early in the process that he didn’t want a traditional encyclopedia because “people can just go download Wikipedia if that’s what they wanted,” he said.

Instead, he wanted the encyclopedia to have a different dynamic and for it to be read and understood from different angles, pushing all of the writers to be open in their entries.

“I told the writers that, if there is scholarly controversy about a topic, they should address the conflict. Explain what the debates are about and examine the strengths and weaknesses of each interpretation. Explore these angles and present the controversy so that readers better understand the different perspectives on the topic,” Cortés said.

Always keeping in mind what would be most beneficial for the reader and anticipating any possible criticisms, Cortés feels that the encyclopedia accomplishes its goals of accessibility and relevance and offers readers a better understanding of race through a multimedia format.

“I wanted it all to serve to illuminate America and I wanted readers to have a better understanding of the races and ethnic groups that live in America and to be able to connect that significance to the future,” Cortés said. “I think it accomplishes that and I hope that I’ve added more vibrancy and complexity to the topic of race and ethnicity in America.”

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-6049
E-mail: konrad.nagy@ucr.edu

Additional Contacts

Carlos Cortés
Tel: (951) 827-1487
E-mail: carlos.cortes@ucr.edu

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