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October 7, 2011

Historic newspapers online--Chronicling America

Photo from Library of Congress
 As an archivist, I understand that the majority of archival materials are not digitized or readily available on the web.  But, as a writer without the money and time to travel to various archives, I've searched the web for useful, valid sources for historical research.  More and more are becoming available, often as a result of institutional collaboration.

A website I've been using the past few weeks,  Chronicling America, is produced by a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress.  The partnership, known as the National Digital Newspaper Program, is an ongoing project to develop a searchable database of U.S. newspapers and to digitize selected historic pages. Currently more than a million digitized newspaper pages are found in Chronicling America. Digitized newspapers date from 1836-1922 and represent newspapers from all U.S. states and territories.  A directory of newspapers from 1690-present is also part of the website, and a list of topics widely-covered topics is included to help guide researchers.  (Although most of the listed topics don't relate to my current research, glancing through the topics sparks my imagination.  A short story involving the roller-skating craze, maybe? A character who practices yoga in 1905?  So many possibilities to explore.)

In a related project, the Rural West Initiative, Bill Lane Center for the American West, Stanford University has produced a database visualization based on Chronicling America.  A timeline and US map are combined, enabling users to see the geographic distribution of American newspapers over time.  Added filters limit results to newspapers in a particular language.  For me, the visualization is interesting, but less useful than the newspaper project itself.

Weekly Newspapers, 1690-2011 from Geoff McGhee on Vimeo.

If you know of some good sources you'd like to share, please feel free to comment or share a link.  I'm always looking for more.

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