Teacher's Guide

Chronicling and Picturing America

The County Election by George Caleb Bingham, 1852.
Photo caption

The County Election by George Caleb Bingham, 1852.

Created through a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress, Chronicling America offers visitors the ability to search and view newspaper pages from 1690-1963 and to find information about American newspapers published between 1690–present using the National Digital Newspaper Program. This site includes access to partner projects Beyond Words and Picturing America to bring photographs, paintings, comics, and more together with use of historic newspapers. 

This Teacher's Guide includes lesson plans that incorporate Chronicling America and Picturing America, activity ideas that can be used across social studies and literature courses, and tips for using the millions of pages available through the Chronicling America database. 

Guiding Questions

How were events covered by the press when they happened?

How has media and media technology changed over time?

Are there limitations to the First Amendment clause regarding freedom of the press?

How do consumers of information ensure they are receiving facts and the truth about the world?

How do paintings serve mirrors and windows for society?

Chronicling and Picturing America

Chronicling America

Since 2005, the National Endowment for the Humanities has made National Digital Newspaper (NDNP) awards to enhance the study of American history. These awards enable cultural heritage institutions to join the NDNP for the purpose of selecting, digitizing, and delivering approximately 100,000 newspaper pages per award to the Library of Congress. The National Endowment for the Humanities has solicited proposals for both initial awards to new institutions as well as continuing awards to returning partners annually since 2005. In this section, you will find resources developed by these cultural heritage institutions to help you make the most of the NDNP.

 

 

Picturing America

Picturing America is the NEH's exciting project that brings masterpieces of American art into classrooms and libraries nationwide. A number of the artists featured in Picturing America were producing art at the turn of the century and articles and features on their work complement EDSITEment's Picturing America lesson plans. You can also view short films on 25 of the portraits included in Picturing America. 

 

Beyond Words

Beyond Words provides users with access to centuries of photographs, cartoons, comics, advertisements, and other images. Students can take on the role of archival researchers by contributing to the site as transcribers of captions, titles, and descriptions. Easy to follow directions allow users to mark images on pages to assist others who are searching the database.  

Using Chronicling America

This short tutorial video instructs Chronicling America users on how to save and download content from the site.


In collaboration with the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress, the National Digital Newspaper Program in Ohio developed and produced a series of video podcasts that will help teach you how to access the rich content available on the historical newspaper database, Chronicling America.

  • Podcasts 2-9 provide the basic information you will need to use the website.
  • Podcasts 10-11 provide more advanced search tips to help you understand why the results you want do not always show up the way you expect.

 

Searching Chronicling America

Chronicling America provides free access to millions of historic American newspaper pages. Listed at these links are topics widely covered in the American press of the time. Chronicling America will be adding more topics on a regular basis. To find out what's new, sign up for Chronicling America's weekly notification service, that highlights interesting content on the site and lets you know when new newspapers and topics are added. Users can use the icons at the bottom of the Chronicling America Web page to subscribe. If you would like to suggest other topics, use the Ask a Librarian contact form available on the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room site. Dates show the approximate range of sample articles.

A Note on Sensitive Content—The first-hand evidence of history is not always pretty. Scattered among the 15,000 pages of "American Journeys" are many that may make your students or their parents uncomfortable. Be prepared to encounter such moments and to use them to help students understand their own beliefs and values, as well as to learn how complex history is if they look beneath the usual textbook simplifications. Here are some examples of objectionable content and how you might respond.

Diverse Perspectives and Chronicling America

The following was authored by Julia Nguyen, Senior Program Officer in the Division of Education Programs at the National Endowment for the Humanities, and published in the National History Day theme book entitled "Breaking Barriers in History." 

Chronicling America is an excellent source for newspapers published by marginalized communities and newspapers published in languages other than English. These papers can help students break through difficult research barriers in order to access the experiences and perspectives of communities not frequently included in the study of U.S. history. Use the “All Digitized Newspapers” tab in the search engine box to sort newspapers by state, language, and ethnicity.

African American Newspapers

The African American press served as a mouthpiece and resource for black communities across the nation during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Reading publications like the Richmond Planet or The Appeal published in St. Paul, Minnesota, can help students understand how African Americans fought against marginalization and racial oppression in communities around the country. Similarly, The Denver Star published editorials condemning Jim Crow segregation and urged its readers to boycott The Birth of a Nation when the film was released in 1915.

Students can also learn about African American history and culture directly from black writers and editors rather than filtered through the perceptions and potential biases of white observers. Publications like the Washington, D.C. based The Colored American and The Bee adopted the practice of using their own reporters rather than relying on republished articles from other newspapers. That meant that events would be covered from a perspective that spoke to the concerns and experiences of readers in African American communities.

Chronicling America partners have digitized a number of African American newspapers, including Charleston’s South Carolina Leader which began publication in 1865 and provides valuable insights into the transition from slavery to freedom at the end of the Civil War. Chronicling America also features several digitized newspapers published in the District of Columbia, most notably Frederick Douglass’s New National Era from the 1870s. EDSITEment provides a Reconstruction Era Teacher's Guide that includes access to a curated collection of newspapers from across the U.S. in which competing perspectives on what should be done about Reconstruction are presented. 

Many titles originated outside the South. The Seattle Republican, for example, was an African American newspaper founded in the 1890s by Horace Cayton, a former slave. The paper, which ceased publication in 1913, supported the Republican Party and advocated for fair treatment of African Americans in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Cayton was also an anti-corruption crusader, which sometimes made him powerful enemies.

In the Midwest, the early twentieth century Tulsa Star represented the views and concerns of that city’s vibrant black community, urging economic reliance among the flourishing businesses of Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street” and campaigning against lynching. The newspaper ceased publication when its office was destroyed in the 1921 Tulsa race riot and its publisher was forced to leave the city.

This dramatic history of activism and repression is echoed in the experiences of other black publishers and editors, and their newspapers can help students better understand events and political developments that have shaped the African American experience. They also, however, serve as vital conduits to a social and economic world that often seems lost in the past. Advertisements can help uncover the development of black-owned businesses. Poetry, fiction, and music highlight prolific cultural production, and editorials and letters to the editor show students the concerns, both big and small, of a city’s black residents.

The Immigrant Presses

Immigrant communities, too, had newspapers focused on their members’ needs and concerns. The range offered on Chronicling America defies shallow categorization. As one might expect based on settlement patterns, the site includes a number of German immigrant newspapers published in the upper Midwest in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It also features, however Allentown, Pennsylvania’s Der Lecha Caunty Patriot, published in various incarnations from the 1830s to the 1870s, and the Nashville Tennessee Staatszeiting from the 1860s.

These publications served as resources for immigrants, helping them find work, homes, and community organizations and guiding their adjustment to life in a new country. They carried advertisements for businesses owned by and tailored to the needs of fellow immigrants and offered advice about their new lives in the United States. The Patriot, a bilingual Italian American paper published in Indiana, Pennsylvania, encouraged its readers to seek U.S. citizenship and included the “Questions that a Good Citizen Should Know” column to help them in the process. Many other immigrant newspapers ran similar features.

Students can use the immigrant press to better understand some of the reasons that people left their homes for the United States. Articles about European wars, political crises, or economic troubles, for example, fulfilled immigrant desires to keep up with the news in the countries they had left, but they also point to some of the causes of later waves of immigration. Advertisements for land or jobs in American communities illustrate the attractions of the United States for people struggling to survive or get ahead in their home countries.

These newspapers can also illuminate the roots of distinctive immigrant-American cultures as they developed. La Sentinella del West Virginia served as the periodical for a growing community of immigrant workers in early twentieth-century West Virginia and included articles about both Italian events and American political news. It reported on events taking places at local Italian American social clubs and churches as immigrants created new institutions and traditions. In its pages and those of similar periodicals, students can trace the development of immigrant-owned businesses; analyze community transitions through announcements of marriages, births, and deaths; investigate the rise of community political leaders; research concerns about language and cultural preservation; and much more.

As immigrant communities grew and matured, the nature of the newspapers serving them changed. In some cases, papers that had been published exclusively in the home language began to incorporate more English content. When Zajedničar, a newspaper serving Croatian immigrants, began publication in 1904, it was published only in Serbo-Croatian. By the 1930s, however, as a generation of children raised in the United States came of age, editors moved to a bilingual format. Toward the end of its five-decade run in the 1920s, editors of Minnesota’s German-language Der Nordstern also added an English-language section in an effort to reach out to younger readers.

Other newspapers changed with the changing political affiliations of their editors and readership. In the nineteenth century, periodicals of all kinds frequently embraced explicit political affiliations, and the immigrant press was no different. Over the course of a fifty-year publishing history, Finnish-language Uusi Kotimaa, published in Minnesota, went from a conservative religious publication to a mainstream Republican newspaper and then from a radical journal with a farmer-laborer perspective to one that chronicled the interests of industrial workers, as editors responded to changing ownership and the rise of industrialization on Minnesota’s Iron Range.

World War I, too, had an impact on many immigrant newspapers. As the United States went to war with Germany, a number of German-language titles ceased publication amid fierce anti-German sentiment. Some, like the Tägliches Cincinnatier Volksblatt, found themselves under investigation by the federal government for suspected sympathies with Germany. Others faced less official but equally serious problems. Advertising revenue fell, newsstands stopped carrying many German language titles, and German Americans feared being seen reading them. Even long-running and well-established journals like Baltimore’s Der Deutsche Correspondent, published since 1841, could not weather these difficulties. The newsaper folded in 1918. By 1920, the German American press had been decimated, and the number of publications available in German would never again reach pre-World War I numbers.

In addition to newspapers published to serve very large immigrant groups, including German, Italian, and Polish, Chronicling America also has digitized newspapers in less-common languages like Finnish, Icelandic, and Romanian. Vinland, published in Minneota, Minnesota, is thought to be the only Icelandic-language newspaper in the United States, and Detroit’s Ad-daleel, published in Arabic, served southern Michigan’s early twentieth-century Lebanese immigrants.

Students who wish to consult newspapers from immigrant communities will face one big barrier. Many of the immigrant papers were published entirely in the immigrants’ home language, which can be impossible for students to access without the necessary language skills. They can be excellent resources, however, for the foreign language classroom. Creative partnerships between history and language classrooms can also help break through this language barrier, as can collaboration with community members and organizations, such as historical societies or cultural groups.

A number of newspapers, however, included a mix of items in English and items in another language. For example, San Antonio’s Freie Presse Für Texas was published primarily in German but included some advertising in English. The Millheim Journal, like several others, followed a bilingual format with two pages in German and two in English. Because most Irish immigrants spoke English as a first or second language, Irish American newspapers were published in English, though some offered columns or scattered content in Irish. Publishers and editors made linguistic decisions based on their understanding of the community’s needs, as wells as their own assessments of how best to serve their readers and help them settle into life in a new country.

Francophone, Spanish, and Indigenous Language Newspapers

Immigrants were not the only groups who confronted the issue of language when publishing newspapers. The Francophone residents of Louisiana and the Spanish-speaking residents of the Southwest were not immigrants, but nineteenth-century geopolitics thrust them into a new nation in the aftermath of the Louisiana Purchase, the Mexican-American War, and the Spanish-American War. Newspapers in these communities helped readers maintain their native languages and cultures as they adapted to new political realities. In Louisiana, for example, the Baton-Rouge Gazette was founded in 1819 as a bilingual newspaper, publishing two pages in French and two in English. Anglophone settlers arrived in Louisiana rapidly after the 1804 purchase, however, and by the 1840s French content had disappeared from the Gazette. Smaller, more isolated communities like Napoleonville and Lucy, on the other hand, were able to maintain French language newspapers much longer, in some cases into the early twentieth century.

Publications serving Spanish-speaking communities in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Puerto Rico can also be found on Chronicling America. In Tucson, Arizona, for example, El Fronterizo, published for more than three decades in the late nineteenth century, advocated for Hispanic pride and against assimilation into mainstream Anglophone culture. El Nuevo Mexicano, by contrast, was the sister publication to the English-language Santa Fe New Mexican and took a more mainstream editorial stance, arguing in favor of statehood for New Mexico.

Students using Chronicling America can also find a few issues of a newspaper published by a Native community. The Cherokee Phoenix, published in Georgia in the 1820s and 1830s, for example, printed the Cherokee Constitution and other documents related to tribal government and provided in-depth coverage of the Cherokee nation’s efforts to maintain control of their lands as the United States government pushed for removal.

Beyond the simple fact that the experiences—and therefore the publications—of African Americans were necessarily different from those of immigrants from Europe and that immigrants from different countries and time periods also had different experiences, study of Chronicling America’s newspapers can foster a deeper and more nuanced understanding of our nation’s history and diversity.

Students should keep in mind that these newspapers, like the communities they served, were not monolithic entities. In Washington, DC, The Bee was fiercely critical of noted black educator and author Booker T. Washington, while The Colored American supported Washington’s views. Immigrant newspapers, too, reflected the diversity of those who came to the United States. Within the Czech American community, one could find newspapers catering to socialists, freethinkers, and Catholics. Among Polish-language newspapers, readers could choose from titles supported by the Catholic Church as well as titles critical of the church’s influence in Polish American communities.

Lesson Plans with Chronicling America

Students can use Chronicling America, Beyond Words, and Picturing America in a variety of ways across humanities disciplines.

As part of an inquiry-based approach to learning, students can:

  • construct DBQs to answer an essay or compelling question on a time or topic;
  • compare journalistic styles over time, including comparison of how news is reported in a 24-hour access culture compared to the turn of the 20th century;
  • prompt further investigation regarding events in U.S. history using the search by state feature to examine local impacts and incorporate them into the evaluation of national events; 
  • analyze artistic differences and what is conveyed in a painting compared with a photograph or cartoon produced for a newspaper;
  • analyze paintings to identify themes and social issues of the time that are being addressed;
  • engage in inquiry to find artists not included in museums or official collections from that time to expand who is included;
  • pair newspapers and paintings with literary works to examine the historical context for when these works were published, what writers and artists were responding to, and to introduce competing perspectives that place the various sources in conversation with one another about a given topic or time. 

Lesson Plans

The Massachusetts 54th Regiment: Honoring the Heroes—This revealing article on the unveiling of the Shaw Memorial by Picturing America artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens pairs well with lessons on the men who fought with Robert Gould Shaw.

Martin Puryear's Ladder for Booker T. Washington—Supplement EDSITEment's lesson plan with a full-page biographical news feature on Booker T. Washington and his achievements that shows students how he was viewed by reporters in 1903.

Chronicling and Mapping the Women's Suffrage Movement—This lesson brings together digital mapping and the Chronicling America newspaper database as part of an inquiry into how and where the women’s suffrage movement took place in the United States.

Thomas Edison's Inventions in the 1900s and Today: From "New" to You!—Students can trace the history of Thomas Edison's inventions through EDSITEment's lesson plan and this fascinating article on the history of the incandescent bulb from Chronicling America.

The Industrial Age in America: Sweatshops, Steel Mills, and Factories—Technological innovation isn't always entirely beneficial. Read Upton Sinclair's first hand account of the abuse that accompanied the industrial revolution while engaging in this lesson on the era of industrialization in the U.S.

Voting Rights for Women: Pro- and Anti-Suffrage—Like Sinclair, women at the turn of the century were fighting for social change. Enhance EDSITEment's lesson plan with an article that reveals the opinions of prominent turn of the century women on suffrage.

Remember the Ladies: The First Ladies—Use Chronicling America to find out how First Lady Edith Roosevelt was covered in the newspapers of her time. 

Chronicling America and Literature

Nature and Culture Detectives: Investigating Jack London's White Fang—This lesson incorporates advertisements found using Chronicling America for London's White Fang from when the novel first was published.

Mark Twain and American Humor—This newspaper article about Mark Twain's death and legacy complements EDSITEment's lesson plan by helping students contextualize Twain in American literary history.

Walt Whitman's Notebooks and Poetry: The Sweep of the Universe—While they study Walt Whitman's poetry in EDSITEment's lesson plan, students might also enjoy getting to know Whitman a little more personally through this article about his conservative views as described by one of his close friends.

The World of Haiku—Have students check out this article on the haiku, or "hokku" as it was called at the turn of the century, while learning about haiku through EDSITEment's lesson plan.