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Historic Newspapers: Paper, Paper….Get Your Paper Here!

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Today I’m honored to present a guest post by Library of Congress staff member Danna Bell-Russel, an archivist by training who works with K-12 teachers as a reference librarian. Over to Danna:

The Washington Times, November 07, 1918

How many of you get your news and information from the Internet or one of the 24-hour news channels? It’s hard to believe that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries many people got their news from newspapers sold by boys and girls on street corners. Newspapers provided information on national events and local issues, not to mention roller skating, opera performances, and world’s fairs.

Want to incorporate newspapers into your classroom activities? Look no further than Chronicling America. Chronicling America is a collaboration between the Library of Congress and the National Endowment of the Humanities that provides access to historic newspapers from around the country. The goal of this program is to provide a searchable list of historic newspapers and also digitize pages from these newspapers.

The San Francisco Call, January 18, 1903

Millions of digitized pages of newspapers are available from 1860-1922 and at present cover 24 states and the District of Columbia, with more states being added regularly. Students can see what happened on their birthday one hundred years ago or see how newspapers in different parts of the country responded to important events. In addition, there is a list of topics that provides links to articles on subjects of particular interest, such as presidential elections, the San Francisco earthquake, the Spanish-American War and the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Teaching Ideas

Beyond examining the coverage of a specific event, students can use historic newspapers to:

  • Analyze newspaper advertisements to identify the persuasive techniques they use.
  • Follow the coverage of a particular event over a long period, such as a prominent crime and the trial of its perpetrators. How does the coverage change over time?
  • Compare prices of products from the newspaper and determine how much a family might need to live at a certain time in history.
  • Explore the impact of new inventions and technological advances on society.
  • Compare newspaper coverage of natural disasters of the past with those from current time. What’s the same and what’s different?
  • See what the headlines were for a certain day in history. Look at newspapers from other states for the same day. Are the same issues important in different parts of the country?

Additional Resources

You can find these historic newspapers at Chronicling America.

For individual topics, visit the list of Topics in Chronicling America.


In what other ways would you use historic newspapers with your students?


Comments (4)

  1. Thanks for this information and links. I teach pre-service educators and these collections and those like American Memory are great for my students.

  2. Thanks for another great idea for a lesson plan! I will start with 6th and 7th grades and hopefully also use with 4th and 5th!

  3. I’m a high school Spanish teacher, and I’d use the articles on the Spanish-American War and the Spanish Civil War to compare, in the former, the attitudes/goals of America and those of Spain. In the latter, we’d learn about the issues of the two sides and how it came to the pooint of open battle;we’d learn why so many Americans involved themselves in that war- -and on which side! I’d also use these backgrounds for reading and discussion of the literature produced in those eras. If possible, I’d try to involve the English department for reading of American literature, and we could do a multi-disciplinary program.

  4. I was a journalist, trained in both print and electronic media, before I became an educator. Use of historical print media (in its heyday) versus current print media would make a good economic lesson.

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