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Chronicling America: historic American Newspapers
Chronicling America

Innovations with Digitized Newspapers

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This post is by Jacqueline Katz, the 2022-2023 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow at the Library of Congress.

In a recent webinar, we explored both innovative questions that can be asked when exploring historic newspapers and tools that exist to help answer those questions. The recording is now available.

Chronicling America, a freely available online database containing historic newspapers from 1770-1963, is sponsored jointly by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress. Keyword searches may yield articles, cartoons, advertisements, classified ads, and much more.

When searching “oatmeal” using the basic search feature on Chronicling America, I discovered advertisements published many years apart in the Washington Evening Star. Present these ads to students one at a time and ask them if they would purchase this product based on what they see in the ad. Ask students to justify their response with evidence from the advertisement.

Advertisement for Quaker Oats from newspaper
Advertisement from the Evening Star, February 26, 1911

 

 

Quaker Oats Advertisement from the Newspaper
Advertisement from the Evening Star, October 12, 1958

 

After students thoroughly observe the advertisements and assess their persuasiveness, prompt them to ask additional questions. Students might ask:

  • How accurate is the scientific content?
  • How might the advertisements reflect the political or social climate of the time?
  • Who might have seen these advertisements?
  • Why was this mascot chosen for this brand of oats?

Once students share their wonderings, the class can decide on a question or two that they would like to answer. Innovative representations of the Chronicling America collection may help students in their process to construct an answer.

A series of maps and visualizations have been created to explore the range of Chronicling America’s collection. The interactive map and timeline allow for the identification of newspapers concurrently published across the country. The bubble graph and bar chart allow for the identification of publications that were geared toward specific ethnic groups. These resources could help students answer questions related to the audiences for the oat advertisements.

From Page of Maps and Visualizations on Chronicling America

 

The research guides provide a timeline of news that could help students research events occurring around the time these advertisements were published. Students might uncover social, political or economic trends that help explain the content of these two advertisements.

Students can extend their research to the Newspaper Navigator which allows them to search just the images of historical newspapers. The program is capable of searching for words in captions as well as using visual similarity. This innovative tool can help students assess the visuals that were published on a certain topic or concept. For example, students can assess the images of Quakers that appeared in newspapers around the company’s founding. How do these images compare to the mascot displayed on oats packaging? What might be responsible for the similarities and differences that are noted?

Map of Locations of Ethnic Newspapers from Newspaper Navigator

 

The newspapers included in Chronicling America provide rich resources for all types of classrooms. The ways in which you and your students search these resources can inspire innovative questions.

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