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Juniata Brings 19th Century Newspapers into Digital Age

(Posted July 16, 2007)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Historians, genealogists, social scientists and pretty much anybody who might be wondering what a beaver hat or a "digestive elixir" went for in 1823 can now use a new searchable digital database created at Juniata College that allows Web users free access to historical Huntingdon County newspapers from 1806 to 1880.

"I think of this as opening a historical water faucet," says Andrew Dudash, head of library public services at Juniata. "This digital database allows you to search instantaneously. Previously researchers would look through microfilm issues and read or skim each story in that issue until they found the reference they were looking for."

Dudash used a $25,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education through federal funding from the Library Sciences and Technology Act. Dudash and two recent Juniata students, Jessica Ocampo. a 2007 graduate from Poway, Calif., and Jamie Peretich, a 2004 graduate who worked on the projects as a University of Pittsburgh graduate student in library science, helped complete the project. Juniata received funding for the project in 2006.
The new digital archive is available on the Access Pennsylvania Digital Repository Web site: http://www.accesspadigital.org. Users should scroll down and click on the icon that says Juniata College Collections.

Dudash says the archive contains most of the editions for two Huntingdon County newspapers during the years 1806 through 1880 (the archive will soon expand to include issues from 1806 to 1819). The two archived newspapers existed independently with a few years of overlap. The Huntingdon Gazette published from 1803 through 1839, and the Huntingdon Journal published from 1835 through 1904.

Huntingdon's current daily newspaper, the Daily News, started publishing in 1922.

"It's a cultural snapshot of the county," says John Mumford, Juniata librarian. "I think the people who would get the most out of the archive will be people who are interested in family history and scholars who seek to confirm facts or trends in their research," Dudash says.

The digital archive has been transferred from a fresh copy of the original microfilm negatives stored at the Pennsylvania State Archives Library. Each page is shot and digitally stored and optical recognition software allows users to scan for names, phrases, combinations of words, and other terms.

Dudash warns that the digital image will perfectly reflect the original microfilm image, for better or for worse. "It's not a perfect science, we're still at the mercy of the microfilm image or the original copies, as it was produced on a manual printing press," he explains. "These issues can all have an effect on searchability. Hopefully, there will be an opportunity to go back and fill in the gaps by reshooting pages from original copies as we find them."

Mumford says the library also would like to digitize another newspaper, the Watchman, which served the Huntingdon County town of Newton Hamilton. He also says the library would like to incorporate into the collection the college's archive from the Snow Hill Cloister, a "utopian" community of celibate Seventh Day Baptist pilgrims who founded a settlement near Waynesboro in Quincy Township, Pennsylvania.

The current digital archive has 2, 257 issues of the two historical Huntingdon newspapers. In addition to searching by optical character recognition, the archive can be searched by date. The database will highlight the date or term searched for and users can zoom in to read the specific article. Dudash also says digitized databases have idiosyncrasies. For instance, entering a name or occupation can result in citations of an advertisement that appears over and over again. "Articles can be anywhere in the paper: on the front page, or under an ad," Dudash says. "It's not until the 20th century that weddings, birth announcements and obituaries were standardized."

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.