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   from the issue of September 20, 2007

  Libraries, Journalism and Mass Communications earn $271,000 grant to aid national database

Historic Nebraska newspapers to go digital


Nebraska newspaper coverage of historical events and everyday life from 1880 through 1910 is going digital.

The Nebraska Digital Newspapers Project - part of a free national online database - is funded through a two-year, $271,000 "We the People" grant provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The grant was announced Sept. 15.

The grant will allow about 100,000 pages of Nebraska newspapers from the period to be digitized for inclusion in the Library of Congress' national Chronicling America Web site. The University Libraries is partnering with the College of Journalism and Mass Communications and the Nebraska State Historical Society on the grant.

Nebraska is one of nine states selected in the early phases of the 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," said Katherine Walter, professor of libraries who leads the project. "Digitizing makes these newspapers available anywhere at any time - accessible as they could never be if only on microfilm."

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 Harvey Perlman, chancellor.

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 analyze 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 will now 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 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."



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