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

On This Day In History: July 18

A plea for the preservation of scenic woodlands surrounding Skagway, Alaska printed in the July 18, 1901 issue of The Daily Alaskan.  It would not be for another six years until that plea was answered by the creation of the Tongass National Forest in September 1907 through a presidential proclamation by Theodore Roosevelt.


 

DailyAlaskan_19010718_SkagwayForestPreservation


“Three years ago the Skagway and Dyea canyons were wooded with stately trees.  The mountain sides were clothed in a mantle of attractive evergreens.  Today the bottoms of the Skagway river have been cleared for the townsite and its extension, and the beauty of the scenery is marred by vast expanses of charred tree trunks.  Much of the primeval attraction of the country is gone forever.  Each succeeding summer marks the recurrence of devastating forest fires.  In most cases they are caused by negligence that is little short of criminal.  There is no closely adjacent timber to Skagway left to protect.  If some concerted action is not taken to preserve the woodlands at the head of Lynn canal it will be but a very few years before the shores of the scenic waters are but blackened and ungainly wastes.

No country on the face of the globe contains a nook more scenically beautiful than West creek, the lower tributary of the Dyea river.  The beetling crags, the walled valley, the pinnacles of the mountains, the glistening glaciers hanging to their precipitous inclines, combined with the sweeping, placid curves of the shaded stream, that in places breaks into a roaring torrent of rapids and waterfalls.  And all this beauty was enhanced with moss carpeted evergreen groves.  This summer must be recorded the defacement of the loveliest feature in this scenic paradise for the green forests in its radius are now but charred and unattractive expanses.  Those who do not care for natural beauties of the country may reasonably remain passive over the destruction of the forests, though people who have cast their lot here must certainly be alive not only to the destruction of valuable timber but to the commercial value of strikingly beautiful scenery.

It will not be many years before people of leasure and means will tarry in Alaska for their summer outings.  The Gun Club, Camera Club, the Chamber of Commerce and all other organizations, called into being for the furtherance of vested interests, or the enjoyment of the beauty and sport afforded by flood, field, mountain and fell, should combine to devise some means whereby Goths and Vandals may be restrained from destroying that which nature has taken centuries to produce.”

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!