Greetings from the Alaska Anthropological Association Conference!

AAA PosterLast week, National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) director Anastasia Tarmann and project coordinator Janey Thompson attended the 45th Annual Meeting of the Alaska Anthropological Association in Anchorage to spread the word about historic Alaska newspapers and progress on the project.

In addition to a poster, we prepared brochures that provided a brief overview of the project, a Chronicling America demonstration on a laptop computer, and unique microfilm bookmarks.

While talking to scholars at the table, many shared their experiences using Chronicling America to assist in their research, one of whom used the site to study changes in brand logos in advertisements over time. Additionally, a few attendees shared titles that we should consider adding to the project and offered to serve on the title selection committee.

In addition to “tabling”, we each had the opportunity to attend lectures given by conference attendees. These presentations of their papers related to the archaeology and anthropology of Alaska, with topics ranging from language revitalization, to museum exhibit design, to the excavation of hearth sites, to the affects of global warming on historic anthropological landmarks.

The Alaska Anthropological Association annual meeting gave us an opportunity to see what researchers and scholars throughout Alaska are studying, and how best our newspaper resources can assist them. Many thanks to all those who made the annual meeting possible!

AAA Conference

Advertisements

Parts of a Newspaper: The Front Page

In this installment of the Parts of a Newspaper series, we’ll be looking at the part most central- the front page! Contributing to this post was city reporter for the Juneau Empire, Gregory Philson, who helped shed light on differences between century-old front pages to those of today.

Below is a front page from the former Alaska Daily Empire (now the Juneau Empire) almost exactly 100 years ago, in honor of our guest:Juneau Empire 100 years ago

When encountering an older front page, one of the most striking differences to the modern reader is its sometimes-chaotic layout, such as this one below from the January 5, 1923 issue of the Seward Gateway:

Where's the story

Based on this front page, there is no clear visual “path” to the story from its headline. The main headline likely functioned to draw readers into the issue, and to then send the readers in search of the story, while taking them to the other stories. Back then, headlines needed to print every story on its front page, due to the relatively high production costs. Newspapers today typically will have one “central” story surrounded by secondary ones, which may not be as important to that day.

Looking at headlines on a more micro level, an important, if sometimes overlooked, aspect of front page design is in its typography. In addition to the way words look through typefaces, kerning (letter spacing) and letting (spacing between leaders) matters greatly. Letting should allow the reader to not have to think about how the story is physically designed and to enable the content to be understood.

To demonstrate kerning, examine the headline below from the April 21, 1918 issue of The Seward Gateway Daily Edition and The Alaska Weekly Post:

Bad Kerning

Upon first glance, it is difficult to discern the meaning of the sentence when it looks like “DOUBLEMURDERATKENAI“. Being unable to understand a headline at at quick glance is a clear issue. If the reader does not know immediately what something says, they are less likely to want to read it. Moreover, the philosophy behind proper kerning is to make the words easily read by anyone, which is the objective of any newspaper. Readers simply cannot absorb information if the words themselves are not legible.

Front pages prioritize main stories that highlight conflicts (foreign wars and domestic disputes), or people and events of note. The front page can represent a microcosm of one day in history; readers can search newspaper databases like Chronicling America just by the front page of a specific title. Whether a newspaper represents a small town or a major city, its front page often reflects the people, places, incidents, and events its readers value. A front page of a newspaper reflects a singular moment in time.

Many thanks to our guest, Gregory Philson, and the Juneau Empire, for your time and insights!

 

What is the National Digital Newspaper Program?

Part II

Why devote national resources to something that was not originally intended to be kept longer than the time it took to print the next issue?

In his 1999 response to an award granted by the Heritage Lottery Fund for the purpose of digitizing U.K. newspapers, Chris Smith, the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, had this to say:

“Newspapers have been called history’s first draft. The conservation of our stock of local newspapers, much of it suffering from acidity and thus difficult to handle, is incredibly important because it forms a considerable part of our nation’s archives.”¹

As one of the first mass produced means of communication, historical newspapers offer a wealth of information and insight into past events valuable to researchers across fields.  Local papers, especially those of small communities, are records of political, social, cultural, and economic development and decline.  Following are just a few examples of the types of information found in newspapers:

  • Advertisements of goods and services offered by local businesses
  • Political commentary of legislation, political figures, and elections
  • Detailed accounts of events, e.g. disasters, social gatherings and celebrations
  • Letters to the editor: what concerns were people having at that time
  • Public notices, e.g. unclaimed mail, emergency notification and instruction, and delinquent taxes
  • Obituaries: often the only source of detailed information on a person’s life in those times

*A note on what historical newspapers do not do: provide a full record of the human experience by largely ignoring or selectively representing minority populations, often in an unfavorable light.

The concept behind Chronicling America is access.  To have this wealth of information preserved is only one aspect of the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP).  The webpage Chronicling America (chroniclingamerica.lov.gov), run by the Library of Congress, ensures that the public will be able to access the fruit of the NDNP’s digital labor 24/7.  Currently there are over 12 million pages of U.S. historical newspapers digitized on Chronicling America ready to be used for everything from searching consumer and fashion trends, to tracking weather history and climate change, to inspiring projects like Freedom on the Move.²  By implementing optical character recognition (OCR), these digitized pages are text-searchable, making it an extremely useful resource for researchers and educators.

While newspapers may be considered the first draft, they are still an important source of unique historical information, a chorus of voices reflecting the concerns and opinions of communities, many of which have otherwise not survived the sands of time. Their preservation is in part the preservation of not only local, but national heritage and through this they can serve as tools of education and instruction for future generations.

 


¹ J. Secker, “Newspapers and historical research: a study of historians and custodians in Wales” (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Wales, 1999), 17.  http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/id/eprint/17693

 

² Freedom on the Move is a joint project between Cornell University, the University of New Orleans, and the University of Alabama focused on creating a database comprised of all runaway slave ads printed in historical newspapers throughout the South for the purpose of making this information accessible for analysis and education.  For more on this project visit http://freedomonthemove.org/


.

.

.

For Part I of this post visit What is the National Digital Newspaper Program (Part I)

What is the National Digital Newspaper Program?

Part I

There are two main principles behind the National Digital Newspaper Program which are also cornerstones of library and archival science, ACCESS and PRESERVATION.

Newsprint, especially in older titles, is rapidly deteriorating. Newspapers were not printed with the intention of perpetuation, instead they were a means to distribute current information to a large audience and discard as the newest issues and information became available.  In 1982 a joint effort between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress created the U.S. Newspaper Program  (USNP).  This program recognized the exigent need to preserve the nation’s historical newspapers through microfilming and worked with each of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands to inventory and film their state and local newspapers.

The National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) is a continuation of the earlier USNP, which ended in 2011. The focus of NDNP is to provide greater access to the nation’s newspapers by digitizing the (mostly) already microfilmed titles.  The key feature of this new program is the introduction of Chronicling America (chroniclingamerica.loc.gov).  Each of the states participating in NDNP send their data and digital images of the digitized newspaper reels to the Library of Congress, who then upload the content into Chronicling America, a text-searchable web-based database, where the public can search and read the now digitized newspapers for FREE.

In addition to sending digital data, each state is also responsible for providing Library of Congress with silver negative copies of the digitized microfilm reels, which are housed at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. in perpetuity as an added preservation measure.

.

.

.

Stay tuned for Part II – an explanation of the historical significance and need for preservation of our nation’s newspapers!

What’s To Come

Starting Fall 2017, the Alaska State Library will begin making 100,000 pages of historical Alaskan newspapers available to the public, FREE of charge, through Chronicling America (chroniclingamerica.loc.gov).

Check back here for updates as the monthly 10,000 page batches are added.

For behind the scenes info and newspaper article highlights follow us on Instagram @alaskahistoricalnewspapers or check out the Alaska State Library’s page on Alaska Historical Newspapers for more project details!