Old newspapers serve as more than fish-wrappers or litter-box liners. They offer an unsurpassed historical look at their communities. The University of South Carolina is making it easier for everyone to have access to this history by putting selected S.C. newspapers into a digital archive.
The papers include urban dailies and country weeklies. Some have been in publication for generations and are still avidly read by those they serve. Others are long defunct. But each has a story to tell, and the USC project will provide greater accessibility.
It will, for example, include one of the state's most venerable weeklies, the Edgefield Advertiser, which has covered one of South Carolina's most politically prominent counties for generations.
Also added to the digital archive will be three important African-American newspapers from the 19th century: the Charleston Advocate, the Afro-American Citizen and the Charleston Free Press. Each offers insights into the lives of the city's black residents.
As Harlan Greene, director of archival and reference services at the College of Charleston's Avery Research Center, told our reporter: "This will make the view 360 degrees, not just the majority viewpoint." Mr. Greene serves on the advisory committee that made the newspaper selections.
The historical record also will be bolstered with digitized copies of The Charleston Daily News, a newspaper notable for introducing Francis W. Dawson to Charleston. Mr. Dawson and his business partner, Bartholomew Riordan, made the Daily News into one of the South's most influential newspapers.
Mr. Dawson, an Englishman who fought for the South during the Civil War, was an eloquent champion of good government during the Reconstruction era, when it was in short supply, and a spokesman for theNew South thereafter.
The Charleston Daily News bought out the Charleston Courier in 1873 and formed The News and Courier, the predecessor to the newspaper in your hands today.
Altogether, 21 newspapers published in South Carolina between the years 1860 and 1922 are being included in the database with the help of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It is to be hoped that other historically important journals eventually will be added.
For example, there's the Charleston Mercury, which played a major role in inflaming the state's secessionist fervor during the mid-19th century, and The Catholic Miscellany, the nation's first Catholic newspaper.
Putting the newspapers in the digital archive will make them available online to anyone with access to a computer. That will be a vast improvement over balky microfilm, which has a limited lifespan and must be replaced periodically at considerable expense.
When completed in 2011, the project will make available a wealth of historical material that now can be found only in selected archives.