Digital Newspapers Project

Last updated: October 10, 2019

Please note: this project has several components that will develop over time as we work on the research and writing. As we do so, the instructor may add detail and further instructions about how to set up online portions of the project. There will not be any additional work based on new language added to this project after it is introduced in class on October 8.

The goal of this project is to develop an online exhibit highlighting the business of newspapers in nineteenth-century America. By pooling the research projects of each student in the course, we will present a joint picture of the news business in a particular place and time in the United States. Just how we will describe that picture will depend on the research we undertake over the next several weeks. The project will be based on newspapers available through the Chronicling America database, a project of the Library of Congress. All of the newspapers from the years prior to 1923 are in the public domain, which means they are no longer under copyright protection and therefore may be reproduced in a project such as this.

As with any research project in an upper-level history course, you are expected to do significant primary source research and link your work with relevant historiography (as described below). We will also work very closely on the craft of writing. Although you will not produce the same volume of words as you would for a traditional research essay, we will be sharing our work online, which means that editing will be a crucial element of the project.

To begin, each student will select a newspaper as a focus. In class on Tuesday, October 8, we will introduce the database and how to make use of it and allow time for each student to browse and search. We will then have a conversation in which we determine geographic, chronological, and other parameters to limit the project, within which each student will select their newspaper. Each newspaper should have a significant run of issues (at least five years, and preferably more than ten) available in Chronicling America, which will allow for deeper analysis and serve as a check to ensure that the research tasks can be completed.

For your newspaper, you will write for the following “sections” of the exhibit:

  • About the newspaper
    • Provide a brief overview of the newspaper’s history: the duration of its run, its location, its political leanings (if any), and so on.
  • Who’s who
    • What can we know about the people involved in producing the newspaper?
    • Were there reporters?
    • Who edited the paper?
    • Who published it?
  • Advertising
    • What type of advertisements ran in the newspaper?
    • How much advertising ran in each issue? (You might also frame this by looking at what proportion of the newspaper was devoted to advertising.)
    • How does that help us understand the newspaper’s audience and politics?
  • Information circulation
    • From what geographic locations did the newspaper publish news?
    • How did it get that news? Original reporting? Wire services or other sharing mechanisms?
  • Audience
    • Whom did the newspaper’s editors and reporters think they were addressing?
  • Timeline
    • Take note of major dates in the newspaper’s development for possible inclusion in a class-wide timeline. (NOTE: These events should be about the newspaper rather than events in American history reported on in the newspaper.)

Submit assignments via Dropbox


Proposal (due October 24) (5% of final grade)

You should submit a 300-word proposal outlining what newspaper you have selected, your reasons why you believe it will be an effective example within the parameters set by the group, and any research you need to do beyond the newspaper itself. You should include a brief bibliography of sources.

Draft (due November 19) (10% of final grade)

This should be a complete version of your contribution to the project for each section, including full citations to your sources and a bibliography. You should expect to write approximately 2,000 to 3,000 words in total (exclusive of citations), and your draft should include at least one visualization of data through a table or chart. We will discuss in class how to conduct that analysis and for which section it is most appropriate.

Final Version (due December 5) (20% of final grade)

This should include final, publishable text for all sections and meet all agreed-upon requirements for posting.

Presentation (Tuesday, December 10) (5% of final grade)

All students should be prepared to present their work (and that of the class) to a group of invited guests. Details will be finalized the week after Thanksgiving.


  • All submissions should be in a Word document via Dropbox.
  • You should include citations in Chicago-style format for your submissions. We will discuss appropriate formats for citation in the online exhibit.
  • You should consult at least four secondary sources from outside the course (that is, that you locate on your own) in addition to any relevant sources from the course.
  • Your work should include at least one visualization of quantitative evidence.