The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records a grant to further digitize Arizona’s historic newspapers on their already established database. They will be working with the University of Arizona Library this grant cycle and are planning to expand the titles of their collection, including some in Spanish.
One notable newspaper already digitized is the Weekly Arizonian, which was first published in 1859. It was the first newspaper published in Arizona, according to Sativa Peterson, the news content program manager at the state archives.
“These newspapers will present a different side of the story,” Peterson said. “They’ll tell from a different point of view and perspective perhaps that hasn’t been captured in the material already digitized.”
The years included in the collection thus far are from about 1859–1922, which covers Arizona’s early history, including the transition from U.S. territory to state in Feb. 1912.
While the digital collection of newspapers contains many historical papers already, there are some historic Arizona newspapers not yet added. The state archives and the UA library wanted to digitize a more diverse array of newspapers now.
Peterson said they want to “fill in the gaps” with early newspapers in the region that haven’t yet been digitized and include more Spanish newspapers. She knows of 25 newspapers published between 1859 to 1922.
Other newspapers that will be added to the digitized collection are border, Native American, African American and newspapers about Arizona’s World War II internment camps.
“I think a lot of people have described newspapers as the rough draft of history,” Peterson said. “They reflected times of which they were created.”
Without these digitization efforts, Peterson said information such as diverse accounts of history would be lost due to the brittleness and fragility of the material of historic newspapers.
Laura Stone, the digital content director at the state archives, said the purpose of digitizing historic newspapers is to make them accessible to people today.
“There are also a lot of people who are interested in all the newspapers,” Stone said. “We have people who come to our Rosenbaum Archive and History building every day to look at microfilm of newspapers. And by digitizing it, we make them available to people all over the world.”
Newspapers back then were not made with the idea that the contents in them will one day be history, she said, which is why there has to be an effort to digitize them in order to preserve the contents and history within.
“Newspapers were not created to last forever,” Stone said. “They were printed on low-quality paper with low-quality ink, and they usually were considered something that got thrown away pretty quickly.”
She also noted they look very different from newspapers today because they were “dense” and “text-heavy” without photographs.
Some of the newspapers covered former Arizona Governor Richard McCormick when the state was a territory. McCormick, who was also a journalist, started two newspapers during his lifetime: the Arizona Miner and the Arizona Citizen.
“He left Prescott and was pretty unpopular, and the competing newspaper made derisive comments about him,” Stone said. “You know, if you think we have yellow journalism today, you should read some of these things that people wrote about one another once upon a time.”
According to Stone, those issues show the change newspapers have undergone in the 20th century.
She also said it’s a different experience from how we receive our news nowadays, since so much of it is now online.
“It’s interesting to read about people’s perspectives on society,” Stone said. “We got stories about women finally being able to drive and whether or not they should be able to drive at night by themselves, whether they should be able to drive across the desert by themselves. You learn a lot about where we come as a society by looking at these old papers.”
The Arizona State Library Archives and Public Records first received a grant to digitize historic newspapers in 2008. About 380,000 pages were already digitized in previous grant cycles. They can be accessed on the Arizona Historical Digital Newspaper Program website and the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America website.
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