UNL earns grant to digitize historical Nebraska newspapers

Released on 09/14/2007, at 2:00 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Lincoln, Neb., September 14th, 2007 —
composite art of historical Nebraska newspapers
composite art of historical Nebraska newspapers

Nebraska newspaper coverage of historical events and everyday life from 1880 through 1910 is going digital -- part of a free national online database -- thanks to a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Through the Nebraska Digital Newspapers Project, about 100,000 pages of Nebraska newspapers from the period will be digitized for inclusion in the Library of Congress' national Chronicling America Web site. UNL's University Libraries is partnering with the College of Journalism and Mass Communications and the Nebraska State Historical Society on the two-year, $271,000 "We the People" grant. Nebraska is one of nine states selected in the early phases of this project, which eventually will include all 50 states. "We the People" grants recognize model projects that advance the study, teaching and understanding of American history and culture.

"One goal of this project is to provide online access to historic newspapers that share Nebraska's heritage with the world. Digitizing makes these newspapers available anywhere at any time -- accessible as they could never be if only on microfilm," said Katherine Walter, professor of libraries, who leads this project. Walter chairs the University Libraries' Digital Initiatives and Special Collections and co-directs UNL's Center for Digital Research in the Humanities.

"Through this collaborative effort and UNL's expertise in digital humanities research, Nebraska's history and perspectives will be represented early in this important national project," said UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman.

Content of the newspaper pages will be searchable and available free to anyone with Internet access, which will benefit scholars, genealogists and interested lay people alike, Walter said. The search capability makes it far easier to compare and study information.

"It will absolutely change the way researchers study information from these papers and open new opportunities for scholarship," Walter said. For example, it will be much easier to examine how different newspapers around the country covered historic events and to conduct text analysis studies.

Selecting 100,000 pages from a 30-year time span requires some tough choices. The team will follow National Digital Newspaper Project guidelines, and an advisory board of Nebraska scholars, teachers, librarians and archivists will provide guidance on which newspapers and events to include. Selected pages will represent a range of geographic areas and genres and will be of significance to research and Nebraska's history.

"By taking a statewide approach, there are opportunities to include papers from smaller communities and to get a real flavor of different regions in the state," Walter said.

Eventually, the team hopes to digitize selected newspaper pages from 1854, when the first territorial newspaper, The Palladian, was published in Bellevue, Neb., through 1922.

The digitization effort builds on earlier NEH-funded projects. From 1992-2000, UNL and the Nebraska State Historical Society partnered to find, catalog and microfilm more than 350,000 pages of historical Nebraska newspapers that weren't in the society's collections. Some of these pages now will be digitized. The society has microfilmed Nebraska newspapers since 1952 and continues microfilming about 190 active newspapers through a partnership with the Nebraska Press Association.

UNL's nationally recognized work through its Center for Digital Research in the Humanities and the longstanding collaboration with the Nebraska State Historical Society made Nebraska a good candidate for early involvement with this national project.

"UNL is building a well-deserved national reputation for leadership in digital humanities research," said Prem Paul, UNL vice chancellor for research. "This National Endowment for the Humanities 'We the People' grant is an acknowledgment of the excellent work our faculty are doing in this exciting area."

Contacts: Katherine Walter, professor, University Libraries, (402) 472-3939, Prem Paul, UNL Vice Chancellor for Research, (402) 472-3123