Monday, October 26, 2015

Resources to Help You Use Chronicling America

Last week I raved about Chronicling America. This week, I'm turning Teaching Montana History over to Natasha Hollenbach, the Montana Digital Newspaper Project Assistant at the Montana Historical Society, for more on Chronicling America (or ChronAm, as she calls it). Here's Natasha:

Last month I attended the annual National Digital Newspaper Program conference in Washington DC, hosted by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress.  On the second day, we three presenters talked about how Chronicling America is used for education.  The first showed off the EDSITEment website which is a product of the National Endowment for the Humanities. It is a vast site. There are 
lesson plans focusing specifically on Chronicling America resources, as well as many other online humanities resources (Picturing America, for example). I strongly encourage you to check it out. 

Both EdSITEMENT and the Vermont Digital Newspaper Project have video tutorials about using, searching and saving/printing on ChronAm. The Vermont site also has a For Educators section under Resources, Much of their information is going to be useful to you, even though they highlight Vermont content. For example, among their lesson plans and activities are:

One presenter, who works at a community college in Arkansas, completely changed my approach to ChronAm. If you’ve seen the map below of states participating in ChronAm, you’ll know that there are no Arkansas newspapers. However, she still uses ChronAm in her course on Arkansas history because major state events make national news. Such a simple concept, but I was always so focused on the Montana newspapers, that it really never occurred to me that I should be encouraging people to search other states’ content.

States in green have content in Chronicling America

Afterwards, I realized that I had just encountered a student doing this over the summer.  She came into the Research Center library and told us that she was researching the national coverage of the Marias Massacre. She had already been on ChronAm and had found lots of articles, but none from Montana. Obviously something was wrong with that, so first I checked to make sure we had digitized newspapers from that year.  (Montana newspapers cover 1864-1922 in just over 250,000 pages from 79 titles, so there are gaps depending on where and when your event happened.  Click here for a map showing Montana digitized newspapers available through ChronAm and other sites.)  

I did find relevant papers available so I did some investigation and realized that the reason she wasn’t finding anything was that the Montana papers don’t call it a massacre.  I found alternate search terms for her and left her to continue her research.  
Sometimes doing history research requires adjusting your conception of the event and sometimes it helps to think in broader terms about your sources. I'll leave you with that idea. If you do have your students research in ChronAm, and they can't find anything on their topic, make sure you talk with them about search terms. How has our vocabulary and what we call events changed over time? (Hint: World War I wasn't called World War I until long after it was over.) Ohio History Connection also has a video on this very topic that might also be worth sharing with your students!

Happy searching!

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