In recent years, students have begun to make use of digitized newspaper collections to conduct really remarkable research at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. For instance, in Professor Paul Harvey’s last senior thesis seminar in 2009, one student conducted research in the Colorado Historic Newspaper collection to collect stories from across the state about the Ludlow Massacre of 1914. Online research has all kinds of possibilities and pitfalls, of course, and it is a skill like any other, but the potential for students to do really in-depth research through the use of digitized newspaper collections is really a plus.
Currently students in History 4800, “Theory and Methods in History,” are going through various library research exercises involving both “traditional” and online or database-retrieved sources. One student already has shown how to use the Making of Americadatabase (a compilation of a vast array of primary sources for American history for the period 1848-1877) to compile primary sources on Civil War prison camps. Another great source just coming online is the National Digital Newspaper Collection.
In Sunday’s New York Times, historian Stephen Mihm has discussed the use of newspaper database sources by historians and biographers, and gives some great examples of historians who have conducted work through the use of these sources that simply wasn’t possible in a previous era. A little excerpt below, and then click the link to follow the rest of the story.
Perhaps the biggest dividend of digging in digitized newspapers was the light it could shed on figures whose papers weren’t considered important enough to preserve: African-Americans, for example, or women.
Graham Hodges, a professor of history at Colgate, found this out while writing a biography of David Ruggles, an important but largely neglected African-American antislavery activist in 19th-century New York City. Using digital newspaper archives, Professor Hodges reconstructed the elaborate networks that linked Ruggles with other, better known activists.
The result is a much more nuanced insight into antislavery activism than was ever thought possible. “I suspect that that the history of reform movements such as the Underground Railroad will be rewritten once historians appreciate how famous and little-known activists communicated through the newspapers,” Professor Hodges said.
Read the rest here.