The following is a guest post written by Robin Pike, Head of the Digital Collections Services Section in the Library’s Serial and Government Publications Division.
The National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) has reached two major milestones this September: the inclusion of New Hampshire as the 50th state to join the program and making 20 million pages freely available to the public on the Chronicling America website.
Dartmouth College will serve as the New Hampshire state hub, partnering with the New Hampshire State Library, the New Hampshire Historical Society, and the University of New Hampshire Library to identify historical newspapers that reflect the state’s political, economic, and cultural history for inclusion in Chronicling America. Among the first newspapers to be digitized and added to the online repository are the New Hampshire Gazette, the first newspaper known to be printed by an enslaved person; The Dartmouth, founded in 1799 as the Dartmouth Gazette, the nation’s oldest school newspaper; and Among the Clouds, a newspaper printed on top of Mount Washington between 1889 and 1917. With these and further additions to Chronicling America’s richness and depth, this online collection provides an ever-increasing representative view of the nation’s history and community voices, helping to fulfill the Library’s mission to engage, inspire and inform all of our users.
History of the Program
NDNP is a joint partnership between the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to create the searchable database, Chronicling America, containing culturally significant newspapers from every US state and territory published between 1690-1963, in the public domain. The agencies formally launched the program in 2004, growing the initiative from NEH’s United States Newspaper Program (USNP), an earlier effort to catalog and preserve of millions of pages of historic newspapers in every state. Building on the USNP, an initial pilot funded a limited number of institutions to digitize newspapers to contribute to the Chronicling America collection hosted by the Library. The pilot focused on newspapers of record and significance for each state within a narrow chronological representation. The success of the program over the past 18 years has extended the collection scope to the current date range of 1777-1963, to include any language published in the United States, and to include newspapers published in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.
Many long-time state partners have successfully expanded their contributions to Chronicling America into newspapers that represent a wider and more diverse population—ethnic press and immigrant communities; special interest papers such as those published by and for women, labor groups, and religious groups; newspapers covering the wide political spectrum; and more. Partners have pursued thematic digitization projects, such as identifying and digitizing African American newspapers and other culturally representative materials to add to the database. It is on the strength and diversity of these collective contributions that Chronicling America has become such an impactful database at 20 million pages, unique among other free digitized newspaper collections that may focus on a region, topic, or period in American history.
Chronicling America is also unique among newspaper mass digitization projects in the United States, in that the entire corpus of images, recognized words, and descriptive cataloging is made available as data for researchers to download and reuse. We have highlighted many of the data reuse projects in the past, including America’s Public Bible, a project that tracked biblical quotes reprinted in newspapers, notably published in memorials in times of war; Beyond Words, a project that used crowdsourcing to identify types of images featured in the newspapers, such as photos, maps, and cartoons; and Newspaper Navigator, a project that built upon the dataset created in Beyond Words to create an AI-powered image search engine for twentieth-century newspaper images.
Looking to the Future
As evidenced by the recently-released interactive map and timeline, Chronicling America still has geographic and time-based (temporal) gaps in its coverage of American history. Many of the New England state projects that are newer to the program are working each year to fill in gaps unique to their states, such as content from the early American press.
States have taken varied approaches to content selection and represent their regions in the national collection using common criteria. Some have focused initially on their most populous periods or significant historical events, while others strive to ensure broad community coverage, representing every county or major metropolitan area. Early participants in the program restricted their selections to specific time periods and languages and some are now returning to the program to digitize additional materials to further complement the collection. Many states that joined the Union in the twentieth century still have stories left to contribute to the collection about the early days in those states. All states and territories can expand temporal coverage of their communities as more content goes into the public domain every year (i.e., currently works published more than 95 years ago are in the public domain, or before 1927). Additionally, as copyright for many regional and community newspapers was not registered or renewed as required by law, state projects have the ability to research and include newspapers up through December 1963. This covers important periods in American history such as World War II, the legacy of Jim Crow Laws and developments in the early Civil Rights Movement, and scientific achievements spurred by the beginning of the Space Race.
One of the ways we will be expanding the interactive map and timeline over the next year is to incorporate information about ethnicity and language from the catalog records to allow faceting on the map. Currently, this data is displayed in a separate interactive map but its data needs to be manually refreshed. Adding these features to the new interactive map will not only showcase the dynamic development of the ethnic press in America during immigration booms of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, but will also document the development of Native American and African American presses, as well as other historically underrepresented communities. The inclusion of these voices are key to understanding the cultural diversity of the United States, particularly from the perspective of the represented community.
Over time, Chronicling America will continue to provide great value, locally and nationally. By including different perspectives over time, users can understand how every story impacts another at the personal, community, and national level. Researchers looking at the stories of individual people or events will make new discoveries about their ancestors or local communities. As Chronicling America grows beyond 20 million pages, the impact of the data continues to grow. By looking at the nation’s newspapers collectively as data, digital scholars can make new connections and discoveries beyond reading single issues of newspapers. The unique value of the Chronicling America collection is the depth and breadth of the historical newspapers selected and digitized by state partners using common criteria and practices and that it is freely accessible to serve the needs of a diverse, national audience. We look forward to continuing the growth of this wonderful collective collection in the future.