Wednesday, June 11, 2008

How Does the Compendium Differ?

In my review of Chris Strodder's Disneyland Encyclopedia, I promised a write-up of how The Disneyland Compendium (an umbrella term for several different products Kevin Yee and I are working toward) differs from what's currently out there. I believe our wide-ranging research efforts and attention to detail will set these products apart. Now, what follows are somewhat tentative plans and as we're yet two years away from expected publication of the first part, they could very well change. They should give a sense of what we're attempting, though.

In regards to Strodder's encyclopedia, he is clearly an author (seven books in eight years) who took Disneyland as a subject; Kevin and I are Disneylanders who are taking an encyclopedia as our subject. He writes solely as a fan, limiting himself to some published documents; Kevin and I bring an intimate familiarity of the subject to the table. As I read through the encyclopedia, I could see some of my own past research in there (like the January 1997 date problem mentioned in the review or things Bruce Gordon or Kim Irvine told us in response to our questions). He can tout that he didn't talk to Disney, but we're happy to draw on the people that know the place best! We have the Cast experience and--of course--have visited the Park as Guests many, many, many times. We both have academic training in the humanities which can help us to contextualize some of the happenings at Disneyland. Alas, neither of us have worked as Imagineers, but we have had and continue to maintain friendships with many Imagineers who can help to fill in gaps in that perspective for us. (Oh, and I guess I did co-found the short-lived Walt Disney Imagineering Fan Club!)

This leads to my next point: we are striving for an integrated history of the Disneyland Resort, incorporating the Guest experience, the operational side of things, Imagineering, and broader cultural significance. I've been arguing for many years that the Cast side of things is usually neglected in publications. With the exceptions of a few memoirs (such as Van France's Window on Main Street or Kevin Yee's Mouse Trap), it is difficult to find reliable information on operations. A few Cast Member names are known (particularly those who have been named Disney Legends), but others still in relatively anonymity have also significantly impacted Disneyland's history. There's a treasure trove of information in internal publications: the Disneylander, the Disneyland Line/Disneyland Resort Line, Backstage Disneyland, and departmental newsletters. In my research I'm thoroughly combing such resources to find information on departments, departmental functions, significant Cast Members, and other details that have been lost through the years.

Disney A-Z utilizes an internal perspective, pointing to how Disney things relate to other Disney things--but usually not outside the company. And this makes perfect sense, given the immense size of a Disney encyclopedia documenting all such outside connections! For example, we'd like to draw out some of the sources used for designing parts of the Resort and look for background information on the various lessees and sponsors through the years. What made the outside company want to be a part of Disneyland? How did each benefit? Time permitting, we might inquire with what corporate archives exist, as they may have records documenting such decisions and maybe providing additional information on the exhibits or shows. For example, the Monsanto archives (housed at Washington University in St. Louis) shows some intriguing folder titles. Some of my posts that document Disneyland's connections to various things (like that on freeways) hints at what we might do here.

I think the way we're organizing our research will result in something different, too. If you're a regular reader of my blog, you'll know I have a thesaurus database to figure out the different concepts and relate them to one another. (I'm thinking I should put up a more detailed post on the thesaurus, with screenshots, examples, or maybe even a video.) Strodder's encyclopedia mostly documents proper nouns, like geographic locations and people. He includes a few generics--restrooms, attraction posters--but it's mainly a gazetteer (places) and pantheon (people). The way the thesaurus is structured, however, Kevin and I are gathering information on both the proper nouns and more generic concepts. So, we might find it worthwhile to have entries on theming, architecture, water animation, or rockwork. (I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but my plan is that Kevin and I will sit down in the future and go through the terms I've collected one by one and decide what needs an entry. Because of the thesaurus's hierarchy, we can easily determine at what level of specificity we want to write. For example, all of the attraction posters and all of the versions of the souvenir wall maps are thesaurus terms, but we'd likely just have a single entry grouping them all together.)

As I keep alluding to, I believe our research effort to be the most wide-ranging on Disneyland's history. Of course, we have Bruce and David above all others to thank for that because of The Nickel Tour, but I think we're pulling out more details than anybody has before attempted. I've spent countless hours saving over 6,000 newspaper articles and advertisements--and I still have about a quarter of a century to go. There are also the Cast Member publications mentioned earlier, the books we all know, The "E" Ticket, other magazine articles (even those featuring Disney obsessives!), people (especially people!), photographs, souvenir guidebooks, guidemaps, souvenir wall maps, the wonderful blogs that always reveal the unexpected, and any other reliable paper we can get our hands on.

I do not know of anybody previously attempting a day-by-day chronology of the Resort's history, as I'm now attempting in the thesaurus. I'm including Park operating hours (striving to be as accurate as possible, but realizing the impossibility of 100% accuracy), linking openings, closings, debuts, ending dates, airings, release dates, event occurrences, promotions, and anything else noteworthy. It's a great way to look up anniversaries for possible blog posts! And this dementia that drove me to do attempt a day-by-day history will also lead to a very thorough Compendium.


mydisneycollection said...

Oh Man, can I jump in a time machine and go forward a few years??? I can't wait for this to come out. Good luck to both of you.

I also agree that Strodder's Disneyland Encyclopedia is missing the Cast Member perspective. No entries for The Disney Line, Harbor House, etc.

Major Pepperidge said...

A "day by day history", whoo-ee! Now THAT'S thorough. Is this going to be a multi-volume set?? Or will the type be extremely tiny?

Jason Schultz said...

We've by no means finalized anything yet, but we've always kind of felt that this would be a multiple volume effort... and all at 6 pt. font. ;)