Research in Digitized Newspapers

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. 

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One Response to Research in Digitized Newspapers

  1. Roxanne Yelvington says:

    It is wonderful to see that the undergrad program at UCCS is keeping up with the changes in technology that are revolutionizing the history profession. As a tutor at the PPCC Writing Center, I would be very interested in putting together a workshop for students that introduces them to the nuances of research in these new areas. I have had many conversations with students, instructors, and students discussing how it would be ideal to introduce some of the key concepts covered in Theory and Methods courses earlier in a student’s degree progression. Helping students learn how to research efficiently before they start in on their history writing projects may help to develop a stronger connection between the reading and writing process: an essential connection for critical analysis. I would be very interested to work across campuses, and get feedback from students, librarians and professors on what we can do as a community college to prepare students for future research at UCCS and other universities to which they are transferring. What would you as students like to have known in your first few years to help you use databases and archives in your research? What areas of research do professors at UCCS find most absent/problematic in student scholarship? What research tactics used by librarians, students and professors best facilitate the often arduous journey through online research material?

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