UT Library to Digitize Newspapers, Preserve History

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KNOXVILLE — It has been said that newspapers are a “first draft of history” but JoAnne Deeken, head of University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Libraries’ Technical Services and Digital Access, believes — for Tennessee — “newspapers are history.”

This is why she is thrilled UT Knoxville has received $325,165 from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to work with the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) for the digitization of 100,000 pages of Tennessee’s microfilmed newspapers, dating from 1836-1922, as part of the NEH’s National Digital Newspaper Program.

“The State of Tennessee was an extremely important and influential state during this time period,” Deeken said. “Our papers, which record actual events as they happened, present a picture of times and places that are unique. By digitizing them, we see them as a time being lived, not as some dry facts in a history book. We essentially live them as the people of the time lived them.”

Historical Tennessee newspapers lend real voices to pivotal events in the history of our state and the nation. Digitizing these newspapers will breathe life into political, commercial, religious and social events of the time.

For instance, more Civil War battles were fought in Tennessee than any other state, with the exception of Virginia. Newspapers chronicled these bloody battles and the emotions and issues that accompany them. In fact, one of the first newspapers devoted to emancipation leading up to the Civil War, The Emancipator, was published in East Tennessee — a region which did not automatically join the Confederacy and thus saw many brothers who joined opposing armies fighting against each other.

Tennessee was also the state to give the 19th Amendment the two-thirds majority necessary for ratification. Newspapers encapsulated the debate over giving women the right to vote. They also captured the culture war over religious fundamentalism, recording the events that led up to the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial, in which John Scopes was convicted of illegally teaching evolution in a Tennessee classroom (despite the fact that he was teaching from lessons included in a state-approved textbook).

The papers also expose what life was like during the era of slavery simply by advertisements and their placements.

“I think seeing an ad for a missing slave under an ad for a missing horse or an ad offering to sell or buy a slave or the open advertisements for manacles and other devices used on slaves make the reality of that institution real. These were not hidden or embarrassing actions; people (the slaves) appear to be treated little better than animals,” Deeken said.

An advisory group of genealogists, educators, researchers and citizens from across the state will select newspapers for the project. The pages will be digitized over the next two years. According to Deeken, they will apply for more grants to complete the digitization of all state newspapers.

The papers will first appear in Chronicling America and later will be available through the UT Library website.

The TSLA collects and preserves books and records of historical, documentary and reference value and promotes library and archival development throughout the state. The NEH is an independent federal agency which supports learning in history, literature, philosophy and other areas of the humanities.

C O N T A C T :

JoAnne Deeken (865-974-6913, jdeeken@utk.edu)

Whitney Holmes (865-974-5460, wholmes7@utk.edu)

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