Helping to Unfold the History of the Holocaust Through Newspapers: A Partnership and a Program

The backs of three women are visible as they face computers with large screens and microfilm machines. A wire cart filled with microfilm boxes sits to the left of the researchers. More computers and machines can be seen in the background.

Researchers look through microfilm in the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room during a Research Sprint event with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on June 24, 2019.

Join us Monday, April 18, for a virtual Research Sprint. Learn how to find historic newspaper articles on our website Chronicling America and contribute to History Unfolded.

What is History Unfolded?

A tall skinny sign shows a picture of people reading newspapers with some smaller text. Visible text shows the sign is for History Unfolded and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The sign sits on the floor and microfilm cabinets are visible behind it.

A sign for History Unfolded sits in the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room during an event in 2018.

In late 2015, Eric Schmalz, Citizen History Community Manager for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s new History Unfolded project, first walked into the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room. Eric asked me about our U.S. newspaper collections from the 1930s and 1940s and I told him about our extensive microfilm and electronic collections from that era. I was curious and asked him what his project was about. That is how a six year partnership between our Reading Room and the History Unfolded team began.

You may have thought, perhaps, that the U.S. didn’t get involved right away in World War II because we didn’t know how bad things were—we didn’t know about what was happening during the Holocaust. But did we? With the History Unfolded project, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) wants to find out what Americans were reading about in their local newspapers. Were the events of the Holocaust being reported?

Anyone can get involved! You can look at the events listed on the History Unfolded website, and if you have access to a local newspaper from the 1930s and 1940s either on microfilm or online, you can check your local paper to see if those events were being reported. If you find an article, you can take a picture of it and upload to the site for everyone to see. You can also look at articles that have already been found. Is your local newspaper included? (Spoiler: most American dailies did report on the events of the Holocaust.)

What is a Research Sprint?

People all over the country have gotten involved. Some parts of the country have had more volunteers than others, however. When Eric realized he wasn’t getting as many articles submitted from some areas, rather than having uneven coverage, he turned to the Library of Congress where we have newspapers from all over the country. We put together a volunteer event, called a “Research Sprint,” where people could come and help us to look through U.S. newspapers for articles on specific events leading up to and during the Holocaust. Research Sprints have been held at libraries around the country. For four years we held events every few months, bringing in new volunteers, teaching people how to use microfilm and databases, and getting them involved in digging up history.

A woman sits facing a computer while a woman, standing, leans over to her. More researchers sit facing computers at desks in front of them.

A reference librarian assists a researcher in the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room during a Research Sprint on June 24, 2019.

Going virtual with Chronicling America!

With the pandemic we had to cancel a lot of our planned Research Sprint events. But something else happened during the pandemic—the Library of Congress added more digitized newspapers to our own Chronicling America website* from the 1930s and 1940s. So now the research can continue, even from home!

On Monday, April 18, we will hold a virtual Research Sprint where volunteers from around the country can join us on Zoom to look through newspapers using Chronicling America. If you would like to join us, you can register here. If you aren’t free then, watch for future events in the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room and online. You can always give it a try on your own too, and contact us with any questions!

I hope that you’ll take a look at History Unfolded, either to volunteer or to look at some of the 45,000 articles that have already been found. I have learned so much while working with Eric and his colleagues from USHMM, and I hope that you will too.

*The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program and jointly sponsored by the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Follow Chronicling America on Twitter @ChronAmLOC

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