What is Chronicling America?

Rights & Responsibilities in History: How to Use Chronicling America National History Day Projects 2013/2014

Chronicling America: A Unique Collection of Primary Sources

You may already know that Chronicling America provides free access to over 6.5 million digitalized pages of America’s Historic Newspapers from 1836–1922. But did you know what unique types of primary source information this collection contains?

Almost everyone is familiar with, and has used large, national newspaper databases with such titles as the New York Times or the Washington Post. But the ability of most of us to read about the concerns big and small that occupied ordinary people and communities from Arizona to West Virginia a hundred years ago is limited to nonexistent.

With its database of pages from state and local newspaper, however, Chronicling America allows us to expand our awareness of how history has been recorded across the U.S. while deepening our appreciation of our country’s regional, political, social, and cultural differences as it existed over the past 175 years.

Curating Content for the Classroom

Reading old newspapers opens a window into a world that hold a multiplicity of values, many of which are very different than today’s. The unfiltered news of yesterday holds wonders but also requires a teacher’s sharp editorial sense to be most effective. The existence of racial or gender bias in articles or adverts that would have raised no concern back in the day, may make modern students or their parents uncomfortable. Be prepared to encounter such moments and to use them to help students understand their own beliefs and values, as well as to learn how complex an encounter with real history is. To assist you in this process, we have included a short guide to teaching sensitive material.

Many historic papers were affiliated with a particular political party and have a strong partisan character, in the literal sense. Happily through the tools available, students can easily learn about, and from, these distinctive editorial perspectives of these newspapers. Chronicling America makes it relatively easy to find out the political perspective of the paper under examination by way of the “about” section which accompanies the newspaper.

For example, the “about” section of Kentucky Irish America gives a fascinating “biography” of  one of the nation’s most durable ethnic newspapers and one of the  three leading Irish-American newspapers in the United States. For an introduction to the partisanship of 19th-  and early 20th-century newspapers and an interesting argument about the positive side of this partisanship, see the article "The Rise and Fall of Partisan Journalism."

Teaching with Ethnic Newspapers

Ethnic newspapers are an especially exciting and revealing part of Chronicling America. In addition to Irish, Latin American, and Jewish newspapers, the database houses seven Native American newspapers: three from tribes in Minnesota and four from Oklahoma. To find these and other ethnic goodies, simply click on the “All Digitalized Newspapers” tab in the Chronicling America toolbar, and use the pull down the menu.

One of the little known aspects of Chronicling America is its forty African American newspapers from sixteen states and the District of Columbia. South Carolina alone is represented by ten papers!! These papers allow us to trace the daily lives and opinions of black people from the days of Emancipation and Reconstruction through the establishment of Jim Crow, World War I and the Great Migration.

The "Golden Age" of Newspapers

The greatest concentration of Chronicling America material currently available online runs from 1900–1922, offering an unrivaled view of the heyday of what Doris Kearns Goodwin has called the “golden age of journalism.” Here one can immerse oneself in the Populist and Progressive Eras, the administrations of Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and the return to “normalcy” under President Warren Harding. On the world stage, this is the period of the Great War, Russian Revolution, and the worldwide influenza pandemic—all of which are covered in great and fascinating detail in these pages.

The date range and states included in Chronicling America’s newspapers collection are constantly expanding. You can begin to explore the riches of this database by simply searching Chronicling America by keyword or by using the suggested list of topics arranged by subject, decade or large theme.

Getting Started for National History Day 2013/2014

This year’s theme “Rights and Responsibilities in History” offers a remarkable array of suggested topics for research projects. The history and social studies staff of EDSITEment has curated some of these topics in order to facilitate the use of Chronicling America and our other resources. The hot links refer to the actual newspaper views of these topics on the Chronicling America website.

Finally it should be noted that EDSITEment, the digital outreach to K-12 teachers and students, has hundreds of lesson plans built around important primary sources with appropriate scholarly background information which may be of interest and use to you as you begin your project.

As the official repository of “The Best of the Humanities on the Web,” EDSITEment also has hundreds of NEH-reviewed/supported websites that are perfect starting points for researching your project.

These accompanying EDSITEment resources, including lesson plans and EDSITEment collection of reviewed websites (many of which were funded by NEH) will add greater insight into these topics and expand your contextual knowledge of your chosen historical event.

Sample Topics: Rights and Responsibilities in History/Chronicling America