Historic American Newspapers – Chronicling America (The Library of Congress)

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The Hawaiian gazette. (Honolulu [Oahu, Hawaii]) 1865-1918, June 18, 1912

If you visit the Library of Congress’s (LOC) website and click on, “Historic Newspapers,” you open up a unique tool for teaching American history.  The first thing you will see is a collection of newspaper front pages, “100 Years Ago Today.”   These, of course, offer great potential as a way to scan the current events from a century ago, but it is not the only resource the site affords visitors and educators.

“Chronicling America” is a joint-effort of the Library of Congress and National Endowment for the Humanities to provide access to digitized newspapers and to digitize select others.  The intent is, of course, to provide a digital directory of such resources for American history.  The website explains the project in the following manner:

Chronicling America is a Website providing access to information about historic newspapers and select digitized newspaper pages, and is produced by the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP). NDNP, a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Library of Congress (LC), is a long-term effort to develop an Internet-based, searchable database of U.S. newspapers with descriptive information and select digitization of historic pages. Supported by NEH, this rich digital resource will be developed and permanently maintained at the Library of Congress. An NEH award program will fund the contribution of content from, eventually, all U.S. states and territories.

To search for particular content, start by clicking on the sidebar’s link, “Recommended Topics,” (location on left upper sidebar, as seen from the screen shot, above) a large alphabetic list of topics is provided.  From here you have two options, 1) find your topic among the listed suggestions, or 2) type in a search term(s) into the box labeled, “Find,” with one of three search areas (1, “News & Current Periodical Pages,” 2, “Researchers Web Pages,” and 3, “All Library of Congress Pages”) provided in the drop down box immediately to the right and see what is provided (see at the top of the screen shot provided, below).

Topics in Chronicling America

 For example, I typed in, “Thomas Edison” in, “News and Current Periodical Pages,” and hit, “GO.”  Now, here, it gets a bit confusing.  While I did not get a direct result for, “Thomas Edison,” the man, as such, I got a topic that is related to Edison: “Early Cinema.”  This could be frustrating for some folks, but the site does function best along the topics it has prepared.  An alternative method is to search, “Thomas Edison” in, “Researchers Web Pages,” and hit, “GO,” giving you research options from the LOC.  Not all of these results will be useful, some will be collections’ items that are not digitized, and others may be only tangentially related, such as the page for the, “Motion Picture and Television Reading Room,” which explains on its main page that:

The Library of Congress began collecting motion pictures in 1893 when Thomas Edison and his brilliant assistant W.K.L. Dickson deposited the Edison Kinetoscopic Records for copyright. However, because of the difficulty of safely storing the flammable nitrate film used at the time, the Library retained only the descriptive material relating to motion pictures. In 1942, recognizing the importance of motion pictures and the need to preserve them as a historical record, the Library began the collection of the films themselves. From 1949 on these included films made for television. Today the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division (MBRS) has responsibility for the acquisition, cataloging and preservation of the motion picture and television collections. The Division operates the Motion Picture and Television Reading Room to provide access and information services to an international community of film and television professionals, archivists, scholars and researchers.

 The last search option from this page is to search, “Thomas Edison” in, “All Library of Congress Pages,” and hit, “GO,” thus providing you with a wide array of materials, including lesson plans, events information and much more.  This brings up some of the same material that the last search provided, but it also includes the LOC biography of Edison and the lesson plan, “Thomas Edison, Electricity and America,” which provides some pretty interesting primary sources, though no newspaper sources (it does include magazine sources, focusing especially on advertising in select magazines).

If you are determined to cover Edison and use the Historic American Newspapers website, you still have a couple of options: 1) direct your students to the page on the 100th anniversary of something newsworthy from Edison’s career, or, if you can’t manage that, 2) use either the, “Early Cinema,” or, “Nikola Tesla,” topics.  Once you select on the topic of choice, you will first get a list of, “Important Dates,” for the topic, then, “Suggested Search Strategies,” and finally, “Sample Articles,” providing links to digitized newspaper articles.

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A Nikolas Tesla article, The Times. (Richmond, Va.) 1890-1903, October 21, 1894, Page 2

The digital copy of the newspaper can be manipulated with controls in the top left corner of the view screen.  In addition to zooming in and out, turning pages, etc., one can also take snapshots with the view screen which can be copied and pasted, downloaded, or printed.  By clicking on the, “Clip Image,” link, the snap shot is opened on a new page or tab with bibliographic information from the newspaper, itself, and the link to the site.

Keep in mind when using old newspaper articles that the rules of journalism developed over time and are relatively recent guidelines, despite the upheaval and threat to such rules created by the web.  As ever, multiple sources will often reveal biases and prejudices among individual publications or authors.

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