Discovering History Through Digital Newspapers

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When researching American Reconstruction, I was grappling with both the appropriate language and the details of the events. While I was writing about Victoria Woodhull and Susan B. Anthony, various biographies of these women contradict one another and I wanted to find primary sources without having to travel to several different archives. I also wanted a sense for how different words and idioms were used in everyday conversation. I chose to rely on newspapers and I discovered several online archives that you may find helpful in your historical research as well:

 

  • Chronicling America; free. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/. This site is hosted by the Library of Congress and contains thousands of newspapers from 1836-1922. It does not have every newspaper printed in America and some collections are incomplete. For example, it has only select issues of The New York Herald from early 1840 but all of the issues from 1841. One also has to be careful when entering in the search fields. For example, Victoria Woodhull may be listed in one newspaper as Victoria Woodhull but she is many more as Mrs. Woodhull. Also, sometimes search terms produce no results but when you go to a particular issue and scan it manually, the term you searched for is there. Despite these flaws, this is an excellent resource for research. You can also download articles as pdfs. Also, the smaller newspapers often reprinted articles from the larger newspapers so you may get duplicate results.

 

  • New York “Times Machine”: $8.75/per week, billed monthly. http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/ This is the only site I have found where one can access The New York Times. The site contains all issues from the first issue of The New York Times in 1851.

 

  • Newspapers.com. Basic is $7.95/month and Extra is $19.90 per month. http://www.newspapers.com The basic membership of newspapers.com contains newspapers back to the 1700s from around the world. You can download the articles as pdfs and save them for later research. The basic membership is also included with Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com) membership and you can search for someone through Ancestry and be linked to any newspaper articles associated with their names. The Extra membership includes additional newspapers and years. The search capabilities with either one are excellent and they are continuing to add new newspapers on a monthly basis. While they boast of newspapers from around the world, the American collection is much more extensive than their international one.

 

  • Harper’s Weekly online books page. Free. http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/serial?id=harpersweekly The University of Pennsylvania hosts this site and it contains most of the issues of Harper’s Weekly from 1858-1870, and then their issue selection is spottier from years 1878-1916. Harper’s Weekly contains excellent coverage of The Civil War, Reconstruction, and the corruption scandals of Tammany Hall.

 

  • Ebay. Variable. www.ebay.com On a rare occasion I was able to find an inexpensive print copy of a newspaper that I needed that was not in a digital archive.

If the above resources do not work, try the archives for the state that it was published in. Many states have historical societies that have volumes of microfilm that one can search. Unfortunately, microfilm is not usually indexed and this can be tedious.

International Archives

  •  British Newspaper Archive. About $15 per month or $120 per year. (http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/) This site is a treasure-trove of British newspapers form the 1700s-1960s. The search engine is complete and you can download the articles or notate them and save them in your file on the site. One word of caution, in the 1800s (and perhaps additional centuries) several pamphlets were published in Great Britain. Pamphlets are not included on the site, only newspapers.
  • Bibliotheque nationalde dr France. Free. (http://www.gallica.bnf.fr) This fascinating resource contains French pamphlets, books, music, graphics, and newspapers from 1500. Many of the sources are in French and will need to be translated for research purposes. The search engine is basic, so one cannot do advanced searches with many fields. Copies can be downloaded.

Research can be overwhelming but the thrill of finding some incident lost to history makes the search worth it!

I want to thank the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) for printing this article: http://www.asja.org/theword/2016/03/23/retracing-history-through-digital-newspapers/

 

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