Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

"The Dwindling Legacy That Is Food for Mice and Flames": Discovery and Preservation of Illinois Historic Newspapers through the Illinois Digital Newspaper Project, 2009–2015

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

"The Dwindling Legacy That Is Food for Mice and Flames": Discovery and Preservation of Illinois Historic Newspapers through the Illinois Digital Newspaper Project, 2009–2015

Article excerpt

IN HIS BIBLIOGRAPHY OF ILLINOIS NEWSPAPERS, and periodicals published in 1910, Franklin William Scott raised some important questions relating to historic newspapers that remain relevant today, despite impressive technological advances of the digital revolution in the last two decades. These included both a lack of access to historical publications, such as newspapers, and the constant need for their preservation. Describing the process of gathering the abundant historical material for his bibliography, Scott acknowledged that "but a slight amount of this material is preserved at all, and that little of what is extant is accessible."1 He stressed the importance of rescuing "from attics and storerooms the dwindling legacy" of Illinois historic newspapers "that is food for mice and flames."2

That legacy has a rich history that began with the publication of the Illinois Herald at Kaskaskia (the territorial capital from 1809 to 1818 and, later, first state capital from 1818 to 1820) by Matthew Duncan, "printer to the Territory," in 1814.3 The press spread slowly but steadily from south to north across the state over the next two decades, following population settlement patterns.4 A cluster of early Illinois papers in Kaskaskia (Western Intelligencer, est. 1816, Illinois Intelligencer, est. 1818), Shawneetown (Illinois Emigrant, est. 1818, Illinois Gazette, est. 1819), and Edwardsville (Edwardsville Spectator, est. 1819) was followed by the establishment in 1828 of the first newspaper published in northern Illinois, the Miners Journal, in the lead mining settlement at Galena, joined in 1829 by the Galena Advertiser.5 By 1840, there were forty-three newspapers in publication in Illinois, including the first Chicago newspaper, the Chicago Democrat, founded in 1833.6

At the onset of the Civil War, there were nearly 300 newspapers published in the state. That number more than tripled by 1880, with at least one newspaper issued in each of the state's 102 counties.7 By 1910, the year Scott published his bibliography of Illinois newspapers and periodicals, the number of Illinois newspapers had nearly doubled, with 1,810 titles published in 647 localities, serving a total state population of 5.4 million.8 Newspaper publishing in Illinois remained at roughly this level throughout the Progressive Era, and only began to decrease in the second half of the twentieth century.9

Illinois Newspaper Project (INP)

Franklin William Scott's sincere concern for these valuable and vanishing primary source historical materials reflects the core of the preservation mission of the Illinois Newspaper Project (INP), which served as a precursor to the Illinois Digital Newspaper Project (IDNP). The INP began as part of the United States Newspaper Program (USNP), a cooperative effort between the states and the federal government designed to survey, locate, catalog, and preserve on microfilm the nation's historic newspapers, published from the eighteenth century to the present.10 With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Illinois State Historical Library (ISHL), the Chicago Historical Society (CHS), and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Library all, at varying times, hosted the INP. In 1987, the ISHL (now the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library) received a grant to "survey newspaper holdings in the state and develop a plan for the multi-year cataloging and microfilming" that would take place for the next several years.11 In order to make surveying the entire state of Illinois a manageable endeavor, the INP team divided it into seven separate cataloging regions. They then sent an introductory letter and survey to every public library, academic library, and genealogical or historical society they could locate throughout the state. The letter and survey asked each institution to provide information about their newspaper collections. The survey asked for title and format information only for those Illinois newspapers that the institutions considered a permanent part of their collection. …

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