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Assembling The Digital Page: Team VNP Attends National Digital Newspaper Program Conference In DC

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The Library of Congress, Madison Building. Meeting place for the 2018 National Digital Newspaper Program Conference.

What’s true of most conferences was true of ours last week in Washington:  An opportunity to share a common language with people of the same mission in the same space.  The space was provided by the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the co-administrators and grant source for our Project and others across the country.  The mission, no longer young, now entering its thirteenth year, seeks to rescue from an unstable environment to a manageable digital home as many historical newspapers as possible.chronamThe circled total of pages on the screen shot above from the Chronicling America homepage is a number to which we’ve made a significant contribution already.   It’s always increasing and at least two hundred thousand of that increase a year from now will come from the Virginia Newspaper Project (VNP).  One half of that contribution will be additional Virginia newspapers prepared by VNP and the other from an ongoing partnership with West Virginia University in which we split responsibility-research and selection on their side, digitizing on ours.

The marquee is always changing on Chron Am.  That circled front page is one of ours, so we grabbed it for use here.  Perhaps an unnecessary reminder, but behind these digital newspaper pages is a busy, jargon-filled world.  To assist in the identification and navigation of digital images we employ such technical terms as Alto, METS Alto, Bagger, PREMIS, LCCN, JPEGS, Fixity Check, METS XML and that’s likely enough examples.  These terms of use speak to deliverables, the papers, and not directly to the maintenance of Chron Am itself.

The annual NDNP conference is proper reminder to its participants of the considerable effort the IT staff of the Library of Congress devotes to not merely the website’s current … read more »

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Reading Obituaries as Historical Texts

Reading Obituaries as Historical Texts

By Kim Bowman, LVA Summer Intern

On February 19, 1887, the Afro-American Churchman published an obituary for Reverend Samuel V. Berry.  From this entry, we learn how Rev. Berry received his calling, where his talents lay in his job, and how much his work was valued by his community.  This entry also tells us about the frequency with which he relocated for work and his major accomplishments with each move.  Just over a decade later, the Clinch Valley News published an obituary for Mrs. Eliza Young.  In it, the author briefly documented her life as an enslaved African American, as a mother, and as a nurse.

Obituaries are a fixture of many newspapers featured in Virginia Chronicle’s database.  When we take time to look closely at their contents, we not only get a sense of the individuals they describe, but also the time period within which they lived and died.  An attentive reader might ask why we learn so much about Rev. Berry’s work when the only mention of Mrs. Young’s years of service as a nurse is limited to one sentence.  These kinds of observations can help identify the expectations placed on people from different backgrounds living in past societies.  For example, in the 1800s, many communities tended to value women who focused on family and the home.  This may be why Mrs. Young’s career outside the home received little attention compared to Rev. Berry’s work.

A paired-text activity like this one can be a powerful critical thinking activity for students in a classroom or an important research experience for someone unearthing their family history.  So, next time you are reading the obituary section, ask yourself “What’s the focus here and why?”, “What might be left unsaid?”, “What opportunities might one person have … read more »

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Back to School

By Kyle Rogers, LVA Newspaper Project volunteer

As the start of the K-12 school year looms, and college students gear up for their fall semester, the Library of Virginia peers back at how the back-to-school frenzy used to look in America’s historical newspapers.  Make sure to check next week on Chronicling America’s #ChronAmParty twitter page to see how newspapers from around the country announced back to school time.

RTD 1920-09-10 Back-to-School ClothesFirst thing’s first, kids: you have to have the right outfit.  As Burk & Co. said, going back to school isn’t easy after summer vacation, but “It’s easier on the boys if they go back wearing stylish new clothes.”  Buy Burk & Co. for “quality that saves money.”  Oh, and don’t forget to buy some new dresses “That’ll truly please [even] the most critical young school miss of six to fourteen years.”[1]

RTD, 1919-09-28 Energy-Giving Meals

And don’t forget the importance of a nutritious breakfast!  Mrs. M. A. Wilson of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reminded parents, “Chilly mornings and evenings mean that from now on the body will require additional heat and energy foods,” and she provides her own recipes for preparing calorie-packed breakfast cereals.  Kettle not included.[2]

Cohen Co. Back-to-School NeedsStudents needed just as many supplies for the classroom during the 1910s as they do now in the 2010s, but how did their parents get them in the era before Amazon…or any online shopping?  They shopped at the Cohen Company, of course!  Don’t forget your writing ink and gum for art class![3]

 

Times-Dispatch 1904-02-17 Proper EyewearI can testify from personal experience about the importance of being able to see well in the classroom.  Students with poor vision need prescription glasses, so that they can see the board and complete their homework assignments without struggling to read the questions.  Luckily, famous optician Charles Lincoln Smith is here to help.  The Times-Dispatch reported … read more »

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WWI Centennial Anniversary – “Queens of the Spy World”

By Kyle Rogers, LVA Newspaper Project volunteer

1917 War Poster – Beware of Female Spies

In recognition of the centennial anniversary of the Allies’ victory in World War I, the Newspaper Project remembers the “Queens of the Spy World Whose Intrigues Sway the Fate of Nations.”  As this melodramatic article published in 1918 by The Sun (New York, NY) demonstrates, women spies not only were instrumental in the gathering of military secrets but also made for sensational headlines on the homefront.  In “Queens of the Spy World,” The Sun compared the often tragic and short-lived espionage careers of Germany’s female agents during The Great War.

Germany’s extensive Wilhelmstrasse spy service included such femmes fatales as Felice Schmidt, Mlle. Sumey Depsy, Mata Hari, and Mme. Despina Storch.  The article describes how these women spies infiltrated the governments of the Allies by posing as teachers, courtiers, dancers, courtesans, and even the occasional fruit vendor.  Schmidt, for example, had herself exiled from Germany as a “suspicious character” in 1915, so that she could establish herself in London in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to seduce Britain’s Secretary of State for War, Horatio Herbert Kitchener.[1]  In The New York Evening World’s “Stories of Spies” section, Felice Schmidt – The German Spy Sent to Tempt Kitchener, reporter Albert Terhune elaborated on Schmidt’s story.  After realizing that it was impossible to pry military secrets out of Kitchener, Schmidt instead insinuated herself in Marseilles as an apple seller, so that she could study the French artillery.  After being caught by the French police while making a sketch of their guns, she was tried as a spy and put to death.[2]

One of the Allies’ most famous female spies was British nurse Edith Cavell, who was executed by the German military for helping some 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium.  Her death by firing … read more »

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“By What Right?” Two Baptist Newspapers from Tazewell

TBCRecently, the Library of Virginia acquired two Baptist newspapers, the Primitive Baptist and the Tazewell Baptist, both from Tazewell, Virginia. The two papers share more than just denomination and place of publication: both are small format, measuring 9.5” x 12”, both issues are dated April 1890 and both are volume one, number four. It seems there was a rift in the Baptist Church and it played out in competing, and very similar, newspapers that began at about the same time. There is only one extant issue of each, so the duration of each paper is unknown.Baptist 2

Portrait of J. A. Leslie, from the Tazewell County Public Library Photograph Collection. Digital copy is available at the Library of Virginia.

The Tazewell Baptist, published by Rev. Joseph Albert Leslie, described itself as “Devoted to the work of the New Lebanon Association” and, among other causes, hoped to raise money for state missions. Leslie arrived in Tazewell to minister for the “fledgling flock” of the Tazewell Baptist Church and later served as a teacher at Tazewell College. The Primitive Baptist was published by John Newton Harman, Sr., also a teacher and one of the founders of Tazewell College. Harman’s newspaper espoused the ideas of the Primitive Baptist movement, a more conservative sect of Baptists, which claimed to adhere strictly to the teachings of the New Testament, with rules that forbade instrumental music, the collection of tithes and dancing, among others.

Page one of the April issue of the Tazewell Baptist posed the following question: “By What Right? We mean, by what right do our brethren assume the titles of “Regular” and “Primitive” Baptist? Do they mean that they are the only lawful representatives of the “first,” or “regular” Baptists of the New Testament, or even of America? We simply … read more »

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Extra, Extra! Virginia Chronicle Reaches 1,000,000 Pages!

VCVirginia Chronicle has surpassed a major milestone: 1,000,000 pages! Thanks to grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, agreements with publishers, cooperative projects, generous gifts, and continued support from the Library of Virginia, the Virginia Newspaper Project has added over 1,000,0001,000,000 newspaper pages to Virginia Chronicle–and looks forward to adding many more in the coming months. Recent additions include: 1879-1959 of the Northern Neck News of Warsaw, additional West Virginia titles and the Idle Hour of Glen Allen.

For newcomers, check the feature-laden menu that offers an alphabetical list of titles, a pin map of digitized newspapers, titles grouped by category and much more.

Visit often to see what’s new!NNNread more »

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Virginia’s Lost Papers

By Kyle Rogers, LVA Newspaper Project volunteer

As part of an ongoing effort to give voice to nineteenth-century African Americans through digital projects like Virginia Untold and Virginia Chronicle, the Virginia Newspaper Project has identified nearly 500 advertisements posted by free African Americans during the antebellum era and the Civil War (c. 1800-1865) concerning their freedom papers. The example, below, was published in the Richmond Daily Dispatch on July 12, 1859:

Two "Lost-Free-Papers" notices from the Richmond Daily Dispatch, July 12, 1859

These notices were grouped with other advertisements for lost or stolen goods, and they could even be found on the same page as rewards posted for the capture of runaway slaves.

Freedom papers, or “free papers,” were protective documents that certified a free African American’s non-slave status.  Frederick Douglass, as usual, best explains the legal and personal significance of free papers to their bearers:

It was the custom in the State of Maryland to require of the free colored people to have what were called free papers. This instrument they were required to renew very often, and by charging a fee for this writing, considerable sums from time to time were collected by the State. In these papers the name, age, color, height and form of the free man were described, together with any scars or other marks upon his person which could assist in his identification. This device of slaveholding ingenuity, like other devices of wickedness, in some measure defeated itself—since more than one man could be found to answer the same general description. Hence many slaves could escape by impersonating the owner of one set of papers… The operation was a hazardous one for the lender as well as for the borrower.  Douglass, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Written by Himself. pp. 245–246.

A free African American’s papers constituted a legal affidavit which identified him read more »

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The Idle Hour: The Eccentric Life of Capt. John Cussons

By Kyle Rogers, LVA Newspaper Project volunteer

Portrait of young Cussons, courtesy of LVA special collections

Portrait of young Cussons, courtesy of LVA special collections

Captain John Cussons, Jr., is one of Glen Allen’s most fascinating historical figures.  A nineteenth-century English immigrant with an entrepreneurial spirit and an insatiable wanderlust, Cussons left Lincolnshire for the United States in 1855, at the age of seventeen.  During his explorations of the Old West, Cussons encountered a Sioux village, where he simply walked into a young Native American woman’s tipi and remained for four years.

He then wandered southeast to Selma, AL, where he became part owner of the Morning Reporter newspaper  before enlisting in the Confederate Army at the outset of the Civil War.  As a scout, Cussons participated in several early Confederate victories and received rapid promotions before, true to character, he casually wandered behind enemy lines on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg and was captured by Union soldiers.   Whether Cussons escaped from the Johnson’s Island military prison on Lake Eerie or was simply paroled out in a prisoner exchange is unclear, but Steve Cooke of the Richmond Navigator notes, “The catalog of items in the American Civil War Museum in Richmond lists a ‘Saw made by Captain Cussons when at Johnson’s Island to make his escape.’”

Cussons (left) with Gen. Law (center) of his former 4th Alabama Infantry regiment.

Cussons (left) with Gen. Law (center) of his former 4th Alabama Infantry regiment.

https://civilwartalk.com/threads/gen-law-capt-john-cussons-4th-ala-infantry-need-help-identifying-others-in-photo.124548/

Rather than returning to England after the Civil War, Cussons ventured to Glen Allen, where he married the widow of Benjamin Allen, after whose prominent family the town was named.  Using funds from his successful printing company—Cussons, May, & Co.—the entrepreneurial ex-Confederate constructed the now-defunct Forest Lodge resort on Mountain Road, adjacent to the town’s railroad tracks:

Forest Lodge, 1880s

Forest Lodge, c. 1880s

https://donnawatkins.smugmug.com/Travel/Virginia/Forest-Lodge/i-kckpfFn
Mountain Rd., Glen Allen Historical Marker

Mountain Rd., Glen Allen Historical Marker

http://www.markerhistory.com/glen-allen-marker-e-10/

In its day, Forest … read more »

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Please Direct your Attention to Out of the Box and the Legacy of John Henry James

Fit to Print invites you to read yesterday’s Out of the Box blog which tells the tragic story of Albemarle County native, John Henry James. In his excellent blog entry, Greg Crawford, Local Government Records Program Manager, uses newspaper articles found on Chronicling America to reveal the starkly contrasting press coverage of the story.  It is no surprise that John Mitchell Jr., editor/publisher of the Richmond Planet, is unsparing in his condemnation on the horrors of mob rule. RP front pageread more »

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Into the Woods: VNP Visits the CCC

Exterior of the CCC Museum at Pocahontas State Park

Looking for something fun to do this summer? Well, look no further. Recently, the staff of the Virginia Newspaper Project returned newspapers to the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum at Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield, Virginia. The museum generously lent newspapers from its collection for the VNP’s CCC newspaper digitization project. As luck would have it, team VNP picked a beautiful day for a visit.

Museum Brochure Cover

Located near the Education Center, nestled in the woods and housed in a small cabin built with materials from homes that once stood on the land, the museum shows how CCC members lived and the public projects on which they worked. For example, in one corner of the exhibition area, a visitor can see a standard issue cot among other memorabilia. Also on display are common tools workers used, uniforms enrollees wore and historic photos, letters, architectural drawings, ephemera and other documents related to the CCC. The Museum even has a bird egg collection, with eggs that date back to the 1880s!

As described in its pamphlet, “Visitors can learn about the dedication and sacrifice in the words and letters of the men whose contributions will last forever.”

In addition to the Museum, the park offers a long list of other fun things to do—and all for just a five to seven-dollar admission fee (depending on the time of year you visit). With 25 miles of off-road trails, Pocahontas State Park has some of the best hiking and mountain biking Virginia has to offer. It also has thirteen miles of bridle trails, picnic areas, an Aquatic Recreation Center (A.K.A. an impressive swimming pool complete with water slides), an Education Center, fishing and boating, camping and even has yurts available for nightly rental—as described on the … read more »

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