Project putting old news online
South Carolinians will soon find it easier to read newspaper accounts about the start of the Civil War, discriminatory Jim Crow laws and Gov. Benjamin Tillman's South Carolina Dispensary, which was once the only entity legally authorized to sell alcohol in the state.
The University of South Carolina's S.C. Digital Newspaper Project will make available online newspapers published throughout the state from 1860 to 1922.
The University Libraries landed a two-year $350,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities last spring to launch the project, said Kate Boyd, digital collections librarian. It will use the money to scan 100,000 pages of selected South Carolina newspapers and make them available through the Library of Congress' Chronicling America database.
The first phase of the project will be ready in time for the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War in 2011, Boyd said.
An advisory board for the South Carolina project will select 15 to 18 newspapers with which to launch the project within the next week, Boyd said. The university plans to choose papers from different parts of the state. And it will select publications geared to a variety of audiences, including the state's African-American community.
The university plans to expand the project over time to include more newspapers and to create a Web site for South Carolina newspapers separate from the Library of Congress site.
The project is important for historians, researchers and the general public, said Allen Stokes, director of the university's South Caroliniana Library. "Newspapers are probably one the most important documentary sources in South Carolina as they are anywhere in the country," he said.
South Carolina didn't have a vital statistics department until the 20th Century, he said. People looking for information on events such as marriages and deaths in the 1800s are forced to turn to newspapers and churches, he said. The new digital system will make it much easier to search for such information by name, he said.
Boyd said that newspapers now are largely stored on microfilm. "Looking at newspapers on microfilm is awful," she said. "You can't search it."
When newspapers are digitized, people can search by keywords, she said.
John White, an archivist and historian at the College of Charleston and a member of the digital newspaper project's advisory board, said people working on their doctoral dissertations often have to skim 20 to 30 years of newspaper editions to find what they need. The new system will save them a lot of time, he said.
But even more important, it will open doors for smaller institutions and elementary and secondary schools that can't afford to buy microfilm from 20 to 30 different newspapers, he said.
When the project is complete, he said, "a teacher will be able to pull something up and say, 'This is what people were talking about in Camden in 1890.' "