Spotlight on: Historical Newspapers

If you’re interested in a deeper dive through the history of New York City (and beyond!), newspaper coverage might be the way to go. The Graduate Center has access to twenty-four databases that provide contemporary and historical newspaper coverage from around the world: several of these include publications from and about New York City and State.

Scholars have written about the city’s historically lively print culture and experimental flair – although not included in the GC collections, one notable NY State-based paper was The Constellation, also known as Illuminated Quadruple Constellation. First published in 1859, the pages were about 5.5 feet long by 8 feet wide – putting it squarely in the category of oversize “mammoth” or “leviathan” papers.

Open Access Resources: available to all.

There are several open-access newspaper databases that include New York City and State; let’s take a closer look.

NY State Historic Newspapers – The site was created by the library networks of Empire State and Northern New York, and provides access to newspapers from every county in NY State. Note that coverage varies widely, depending on the title; there are 3748 available issues of the Bolivar Breeze (with colorful masthead slogan: “All things come to him who hustles”), but only 8 issues of The Brookfield Courier and The Reporter. In terms of New York City, there are 44 publications currently listed, including The Long Island Farmer, The Spiritualist at Work, and The City Island Drift (covering the 1.5 mile-long City island, of Bronx County).

Masthead of the Brooklyn Eagle. June 26,1943.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle – With coverage from 1841 to 1955, the site includes 760,109 (and counting) pages of this long-running publication. Public access is made possible through a partnership between the Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklyn Division and Newspapers.com.

Old Fulton History –  In addition to a wide variety of digitized newspapers, this site includes high school yearbook photographs, postcards, and an idiosyncratic array of historical records. Users are given the option to search across individual or multiple newspapers, and can change the “fuzziness” of the keyword searching (to find not just “apple” but “appple,” for example).

Detail from an advertisement for Hood’s Sarsaparilla. Granville Sentinel, December, 1893.

Chronicling America – Provided by the Library of Congress, this resource offers free, public access to hundreds of newspapers from across all 50 states. Users have the option to search by keyword, ethnicity, date range, and state.

As with the sites above, keyword searching can be a limited tool. For example, if you’re looking for articles whose primary subject is Mark Twain, a keyword search for “Twain, Mark,” will bring up articles that mention the author, works by the author, and in this particular case, the 1918 comic strip “Mark Twain’s Immortal Words Made Real in Pictures.” The Library of Congress is working to enhance the discoverability of content through its Beyond Words project, which invites members of the public to transcribe text, tag images, and otherwise add their human knowledge to the automated text-recognition.

Subscribed databases with NY coverage

In addition to the above open resources, you’ll find more New York State coverage in America’s Historical Newspapers, Accessible Archives, Ethnic NewsWatch, and the New York Times Archive. (Access provided courtesy of the Graduate Center, CUNY, and the New York Public Library.)

Despite the limitations of current search functionality, newspaper databases represent a huge leap away from microfilm, and offer a wealth of historical potential. Newspapers can provide an unusually rich and localized coverage of an area like New York City – in 1870, there were 490 newspapers published in New York State, with 90 individual titles published in the city itself.

Tips:

  • If you’re looking for a specific newspaper, you can use the Journal Title Search bar (above the main search bar on the Library homepage). This will confirm whether the Graduate Center has access to that newspaper as part of our holdings (either in one of the electronic databases, or Microfilm).
  • If the Graduate Center Library doesn’t have access to an article in a newspaper that you’re looking for, try placing an Interlibrary Loan request. Be sure to enter as much information as you have, to expedite the request.

(Sources: http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/nysnp/history.htm).

About the Author

Elvis Bakaitis is an Adjunct Reference Librarian at the Graduate Center Library.