Friday, 23 December 2011

Santa Claus and reindeer, Alaska, 1893

As it's the last day before the Christmas break, I've been poking around for something Christmassy to share from one of our resources, and have come across this delightful account of playing Santa Claus with real reindeer to Eskimo children in Alaska in 1893.

I told the children about Santa Claus, and for them to tie their fur stockings up near their beds, as he was coming to visit them for the first time, and would remember every child.... It occurred to me that perhaps this was the first time in the history of civilization that a live Santa Claus made his midnight visit upon an errand of mercy with a team of reindeer.

My favourite part though, I think, is the beautifully evocative description of the night itself:

While in my stooping position at the first house, I suddenly lifted my eyes to the north and beheld the most gorgeous aurora I witnessed at any time during the winter. The night was a glorious one, cold and crisp, with the stars shining in lustrous splendor from the pale blue canopy above, and not a breath of air was stirring. Across the whole northern horizon floods of wavy light surged and swept from east to west, sending further up into the heavens streams of vapory light dancing up and down in graceful shadows, that easily led me to imagine they were caused by invisible spirits.

If that doesn't make you feel all warm and festive, nothing will! Click on the images below to read the full extract from the report, which is contained in the US Congressional Serial Set (available via OxLIP+ for Oxford users).

Report on introduction of domesticated reindeer into Alaska. with maps and illustrations, by Sheldon Jackson, general agent of education in Alaska. 1894, S.Exec.Doc. 70 (53rd Congress, 2nd Session), contained in the US Congressional Serial Set.

I hope you all have a wonderful and relaxing Christmas and New Year!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, 1836-1922

Yesterday we had a visit from Deborah Thomas from the National Digital Newspaper Program at the Library of Congress, who gave a presentation on the Library's Chronicling America website. I thought I'd write up my notes from her presentation here for anyone who was unable to attend and also for future reference.

About Chronicling America and the National Digital Newspaper Program

Chronicling America ( is a website that provides access to digitised pages of selected American newspapers from 1836-1922, and is hosted and maintained by the Library of Congress as part of the National Digital Newspaper Program. This program is a partnership between the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities and has been running since 2005. It funds state projects to digitise historic newspapers from this time period (each grant funds the digitisation of 100,000 pages), which are then made available through the Chronicling America site. The program builds on the earlier United States Newspaper Program, which inventoried, catalogued and microfilmed some 75 million pages from 140,000 historic American newspapers over a period of 25 years. The current programme aims to make a representative sample of those pages available online - right now there are almost 4.3 million pages from 25 states (and the District of Columbia), and it is hoped that eventually (within 15-20 years) all states will be covered.  The latest three states to join in are Indiana, North Dakota, and West Virginia, and their content will start to be made available next Spring.  This state-specific approach is driven by the nature of newspaper publishing and newspaper collections in the United States - local institutions have the most comprehensive collections for their area, and there is no single national US newspaper collection as in many other countries. However, aggregating the content in the website at a national level provides a much better and more accessible online service to researchers, and this is one of the main goals of the project.

Each state is responsible for selecting the newspapers and editions that they will digitise, and so the type of content that you will find within the site varies from state to state. Some have picked long runs of a few large papers; others have picked a lot of smaller titles - Kentucky, for example, wanted to ensure that each of their eighty counties were represented in their sample.  As part of the process, the contributing institutions were asked to write short essays for each newspaper title that they digitised, explaining why they chose that title and its significance and context - these essays are all available as part of the bibliographic record for the title within the US Newspaper Directory (of which more later in this post), so you can see the rationale behind what could otherwise seem like a fairly arbitrary sample.

The material being digitised is all within the date range of 1836-1922.  The end date is determined by US copyright law, whose threshold is 1923 - all content from before that date is in the public domain and may therefore be freely digitised and made available by the Library in this way, whereas anything more recent would require the permission of a complicated network of rights-holders.  This does mean that you are able to download, copy and re-use any of the content from the site entirely freely yourself!  The start date is rather more arbitrary, but was chosen because of the increasing difficulty of digitising the older material and because the format of newspapers changes and is less consistent the further back in time you go.

Searching the site

The Chronicling America interface provides several different routes in to access the content. On the main page you will find a search bar which defaults to the basic full-text search - this allows you to search for terms and restrict your search to a specific state and/or date range. The search box here acts as a proximity search, so if you put more than one term in it will search for instances where those terms appear within five words of each other.  The digitised pages have been converted for full-text search using Optical Character Recognition (OCR), which can have a variable success rate - it's less than 100%, and in some instances can even be less than 50% accurate. However chances are if you are searching for significant terms, those words will turn up more than once in an article which does compensate for this a little!

The advanced search gives you more options to construct your search terms, and allows you to restrict by more than one state and/or newspaper title as well as enter date ranges by day and month as well as year.

The next tab (All Digitized Newspapers) is the means by which you can browse the collection, either in its entirety, or by state, ethnicity, or language.  The newspapers that are included are almost entirely English-language, though there are two in French, two Hawaiian, three Spanish and one Choctaw title and more French and Spanish content will be added later this year. 

Once you have found some results, the page image interface is really nice and smooth, with scrolling zoom and click and drag, and really high quality scans. You can navigate through the full edition of that paper, and view or download page images as text and PDF (with the bibliographic information attached, ready for referencing).  You can also 'clip' images to get an image of part of a page - the 'clip image' button will essentially cut out whatever is visible in the viewer at that moment.  All the page images, and clipped images that you make, have persistent URLs, which means you can bookmark or save the link and you will always be able to get back to it.  As an example, this link will take you to the following clipped image:

US Newspaper Directory, 1690-

As well as the full-text material in Chronicling America, the site also provides access to the full US Newspaper Directory.  This contains bibliographic information about all 140,000 titles that were catalogued as part of the United States Newspaper Program, along with information about which libraries hold them. These bibliographic records also include links to full-text digitised versions both within Chronicling America and on other sites where available.  Quite often if something is in Chronicling America it will also be available online from the institution which scanned it in the first place, so you are likely to find some titles duplicated.  For the titles that are included in Chronicling America, this is where you will find the contextual essays written by the people that selected the title for inclusion.

Topics in Chronicling America

The Library of Congress also provides around 100 topic guides to the site, which are designed to give you starting points in researching a whole variety of events, subjects and themes within Chronicling America. The topics available are quite a random selection, ranging from Presidential administrations and elections, to events such as the Haymarket Affair or the Annexation of Hawaii, and people like Booker T. Washington and Nikola Tesla, as well as all sorts of other things like the ping-pong craze of 1900 to 1902.  Each topical guide gives you a bit of the background as well as links to sample articles and (perhaps most usefully), suggested search terms to use. You can see a full list of the topics at, but check back again in the future as more are being created and added.

Keeping up-to-date with the site

Chronicling America is growing rapidly and continually, so it's worth going back again and again to see if new material has been added that is relevant to your research.  The site also provides you with ways to keep up with the new content as it becomes available and to be alerted when there are additions.  You can subscribe to general updates (of content as well as points of interest and research) both by RSS and email, or subscribe to an RSS feed of just the new content as it is added, from the subscribe link available throughout the site.

And finally...

All the data from the site is freely available for re-use and can be obtained via the site's API. To see an example of one of the innovative uses of the data from the US Newspaper Directory, see Stanford University's data visualisation of the growth of newspapers across the United States from 1690-2011.  

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Introduction to the US Congressional Serial Set

At last, the long-promised introduction to the US Congressional Serial Set, one of our major resources.

What is the Serial Set?

The US Congressional Serial Set is the official collection of reports and documents of Congress. It began with the 15th Congress in 1817; older documents (from 1789-) can be found in the American State Papers. It is as important to get to grips what the Serial Set is not as what it is, as it is very specific as to which documents/reports are included and which are published separately.

The Serial Set contains the following named categories of documents:
  • House & Senate Reports
  • House & Senate Documents
  • House & Senate Journals (until the 82nd Congress in 1952)
  • Senate Executive Reports and Treaty Documents (from the 95th Congress in 1977 onwards). 
It does not include the text of debates (for which, see the Congressional Record), bills & resolutions, Committee Hearings or Prints, or other miscellaneous House or Senate documents.
House & Senate Reports are the official communications of the House & Senate Committees to the full House & Senate. They are mostly legislative reports, but also include special reports on various subjects. They are numbered as H.Rpt. or S.Rpt., so if you see a reference beginning with either of these terms you will definitely be able to find it in the Serial Set.

House & Senate Documents are less closely linked to legislation. Some examples of the type of publication that would be classed as a House or Senate Document are as follows:
  • Congress's rules of operation
  • Memorials, ceremonial reports
  • Results of investigations (including occasionally transcripts of hearings)
  • Executive Department materials (annual reports, special reports)
  • Materials from outside the Federal Government which were of use to Congress
House & Senate Documents are numbered H.Doc. and S.Doc. One exception to be aware of is that from the 30th to the 53rd Congresses (1847-1895), Documents were further split into Miscellaneous Documents and Executive Documents, with the latter exclusively reserved for documents which came from the Executive Branch. Be careful not to mix these up with the entirely different Senate Executive Reports which are included in the Serial Set after 1977!

The House & Senate Journals are the daily record of business of each chamber. Unlike the Congressional Record they don't record the debates verbatim, but you may find excerpts of speeches included on occasion. Like the Congressional Record, they also do not include the text of bills or resolutions.

Overall, the Serial Set is a vast collection of hundreds of thousands of documents, including thousands of maps and illustrations, covering every conceivable topic and both US and worldwide events - anything Congress had an interest in. Whatever you're researching, you're sure to find something of relevance in the Serial Set, but do be aware of the limitations of the set in terms of the types of documents included.

American State Papers

The American State Papers contain legislative and executive documents of Congress from 1789 to 1838. Documents within the American State Papers are arranged into ten topical classes, as follows:
I. Foreign relations
II. Indian affairs
III. Finances
IV. Commerce and navigation
V. Military affairs
VI. Naval affairs
VII. Post Office Department
VIII. Public lands
IX. Claims
X. Miscellaneous

How to access the Serial Set

We have access to the electronic version of the Serial Set from Readex for 1817-1994, which is available via SOLO/OxLIP+.  The easiest way to find it is to search for 'Congressional Serial Set' - the database you want is entitled US Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1994 [in progress] (with American State Papers, 1789-1838).  There is also the American State Papers (with US Congressional Serial Set) and US Congressional Serial Set Maps, which allow you to search those specifically, but if you're after access to the main thing, the option highlighted below is the one you want.

If you want to find documents in the Serial Set post-1994, they are freely available (and full-text searchable) via the GPO's Federal Digital System site - links as follows:
The VHL also has an extensive run of Serial Set volumes from the 19th century (up to approximately 1880) in print down in the stack, as well as the printed volumes of the American State Papers. 

Searching the Readex Serial Set

The Readex interface offers several different ways to search or browse the Serial Set. I will concentrate here on the search and browse options available for the main Serial Set, but if you are searching the American State Papers via the Readex interface you will find it works in basically the same way.

The easiest way by far is if you know the exact document you are looking for, as you can then enter the reference in the publication search and it will take you straight to it.  However, in most cases you won't necessarily know this, and will be wanting to carry out more speculative keyword searches.

When you click through from SOLO or OxLIP+, you will be taken straight to the advanced search screen. Here you can enter your search terms either in the top two boxes (which search the citations), and/or the third box down, which is the full-text search box. You can specify the Serial Set volume if you know it, and add a date range in the last box.  This latter is particularly useful as the Serial Set covers such a long time period.

(Note the links to the publication search and also the bill number search at the bottom)

As the Serial Set is such a large database, you may well find that you get back a lot of results, and it can be difficult to work out what terms to put in in the first place to bring back a manageable number. One really good feature of this database though is the ways in which it allows you to filter after you have carried out an intitial search. Once you have a set of results in the lower part of the page, you will still have your search boxes available at the top, but now you have the option to carry out further searches within your results set only:

This allows you to be quite speculative and broad in your initial search terms, and then throw more terms in in subsequent searches (and the full text is particularly helpful at this point I find) in order to reduce your results set to something more manageable and focused.

One thing to be aware of is the 'also consider these topics' feature, which you will see on the right-hand side of your results list. This lists various associated subject/person/geographic etc terms which you can click on, but if you do click on one of these it will not narrow your search, but rather broaden it to show you all documents that are linked to that term. If you find you've carried out too narrow a search, or what you've come back with is not actually useful to you, this can be a good way to broaden things out again, but don't click on these terms expecting it to filter your existing results!

As well as search options, there is a whole variety of ways to browse the Serial Set. At the bottom of the main search screen you will see a set of tabs, which allow you to browse by a huge number of categories.  Within each tab there are subcategories, so that you can drill down to find the term you want and then the documents that are associated with that subject/person/organisation/committee etc. I find that sometimes these can be very useful, but for other things they are just too broad.  If you are wanting to find a specific person, or documents relating to a specific Act of Congress though, then this can be easier than conducting a keyword search. And as with searches, once you have selected a category you will find that you then have the option to conduct a search just within that category, which can again be a very useful way to start off broadly and narrow down.

Finally, it is also possible to search the Serial Set for documents relating to specific bills and resolutions if you know the bill number. To do this, select the bill number search from the options below the search boxes.

Working with documents

Once you have found the document you are after, there are several things that you can do. The documents are all scanned page images which you can zoom into and move around on the page (particularly useful for maps). You can download pages either individually or in bulk, as JPGs (single pages only) or PDFs.  Each document has a full citation, which you can view, download or print, and you can save documents to a temporary collection and then email yourself the links and references to come back to later.  There is also a full-text search box at the top of the document view page which allows you to search within that document for specific terms, which is particularly useful for lengthy reports. 

Other ways to access the Serial Set

As well as searching the Readex database, we do have a set of printed indexes to the Serial Set, which cover 1817-1969 (as well as the American State Papers from 1789-).  They are available in the reference section on the ground floor, and if you use these they will give you the exact publication reference which you can then use in the publication search in the electronic version. Another useful reference is an online guide to the Serial Set which allows you to browse by agency to find publication and volume numbers.

With thanks to August Imholtz for providing me with some of the descriptions used above.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Follow me to visit libraries and archives in the USA

(Cross-posted to the main VHL blog)

In April, I was selected as the 2011 recipient of the CILIP/ESU Travelling Librarian Award, which supports a UK librarian to travel to the United States to visit libraries and archives. The award is designed to promote and develop UK-US library links, and is an excellent opportunity for me both to learn more about historic library collections in the US and to share information on the American collections at Oxford with librarians in the United States.

I'll be flying out to the US one month today, on 17th September, and will be blogging my trip at I'll also be tweeting as @jlrawson. You can view my itinerary on the blog at - I'll be visiting a variety of libraries and archives with significant historical collections, all in the east coast area. Follow me as I travel and gain an insight into the places that I visit!  If you have things you'd like to know, or questions you'd like me to ask while I'm there, feel free to let me know.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Declassified Documents: DDRS and DNSA

In the week that the full Pentagon Papers were released online, and following the announcement of a new collection added to the Digital National Security Archive, a post on finding and accessing declassified documents seemed appropriate!

Oxford has access to two online databases of declassified documents, the aforementioned Digital National Security Archive and also the Declassified Documents Reference System, both available via OxLIP+.  These two databases are complementary in that they both aim to do the same thing but have a slightly different approach. 

The Declassified Documents Reference System (DDRS) provides access to over 500,000 pages of declassified government documents. The bulk of the documents (as advertised) cover 1945 to the 1970s, however I have found documents there from as early as 1910 and as late as 1992.  They originate from many government departments and organisations: the CIA, FBI, State, Justice and Defense Departments, National Security Council and the White House among others. It includes all kinds of different materials - memos, cables, correspondence, studies and reports, and covers nearly every major domestic and international event during the period.

The Digital National Security Archive (DNSA) also provides access to over 500,000 pages of declassified documents, starting in 1945 and going right up to almost the present day for certain topics.  The main way in which this resource differs from DDRS is that it is organised thematically, with documents arranged into collections on specific areas or events such as Afghanistan, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, or US military uses of space.  New collections are added relatively frequently, so even if your area of interest is not currently covered it is worth checking back periodically.   As with DDRS, DNSA includes a diverse range of document types and sources.

How to use the database: DDRS

 When you click through to DDRS from OxLIP+, you are brought to the basic search screen, which allows you to do keyword or full-text searches of the entire database. With so many documents to search, however, it can be difficult to enter search terms that are going to bring you back a useful (and not overwhelming) set of results.  I'd generally advise therefore going straight to the advanced search option, which gives you a lot of ways to narrow your search. 

At the top of the page you have the usual options to enter several search terms. Note that the default is to search keyword/subject, ie, the citation and not the full-text.  If you want to do a full-text search, you need to select full-text from the drop down menu.

Below the search boxes there are a whole lot of different ways to limit your search and ensure that you get really relevant results. The most useful one is the issue date, which means the date of the actual document itself and allows you to restrict your search to specific time periods.  Don't confuse this with the 'date declassified', which will in most cases be much later.  Another useful limiter is the source institution, which allows you only to search for documents issuing from a particular agency if, for example, you're interested in just the activity of the CIA or the White House etc. You can also restrict your search by document type, sanitization, completeness or number of pages.

The documents themselves can be viewed either as page images or as transcribed text. Page images is the default; to view the text, click on 'view text' next to the page navigation at the top.  What you can do with the document depends on which view you are in.  If you are viewing the page image, then you can download/print the entire document as a PDF.  If you are viewing the text, then you can print or email the text of the page you are viewing (but only that one page at a time).  DDRS also offers a fairly basic 'mark records' function, where you can create a list of specific records from your various searches as you go along to come back to. However, this is session-bound, so you can't come back to it after exiting the database, and there is also no save/export function other than printing out the screen from your browser!  Within your session, it is also possible to view your search history and get back to earlier sets of results.

How to use the database: DNSA

As described above, documents within the DNSA are arranged into thematic collections, which can be accessed individually or in conjunction with one another.  Each collection also has a guide available, which provides lots of information about what it includes and any limitations, and are well worth taking a look at before you dive in to your research.

Depending on what you are looking for, there are several different ways to search the DNSA database.

Searching documents: Note that unlike DDRS, it is not possible to search the full-text of documents themselves. 
  • Quick search: From the box in the top left-hand corner. This performs a basic keyword search across all collections and is therefore likely to bring back a large number of hits.
  • Document search: This is the most useful search option for finding material. It offers advanced search options (keyword, name, date, document type) and the ability to select which collections you want to search - scroll down to find the tick boxes at the bottom of the page. You can therefore search only one, or a selected few, or the entire database as you choose and is the real way in which the thematic approach is beneficial as you're only searching relevant documents from the off.
Background searches: These do not search the documents themselves, but provide background information and context to the documents.
  • Bibliography search: This searches the bibliography of materials used by the researchers at the National Security Archive when compiling the collections. It can therefore be useful as a background bibliography of the subject area, and will point you on to relevant books and articles, but is not designed to be comprehensive. 
  • Chronology search: This gives you a useful summary of key events pertaining to your search.
  • Glossary search: Allows you to search for basic descriptive information about significant individuals, terms and acronyms.
Documents can be viewed as page images or downloaded as PDFs, as with DDRS. However, DNSA also allows you to export citations both as plain text and directly into RefWorks and EndNote as well as print and email.  Another excellent feature is the cross-referencing, which allows you to click through to find further documents for people, organisations and subjects listed in any record.  As well as tracking your search history allowing you to mark records to come back to within a session, DNSA offers a 'my archive' feature where you can sign up for an account and save records and documents to come back to another time.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

New electronic resource: The American Founding Era Collection (Rotunda)

We have just purchased permanent access to the American Founding Era Collection, which we trialled back in December and January.  If you'll forgive me for re-using old material, I thought it would be helpful therefore to re-post one of the earliest posts on this blog, which goes into detail about what the collection contains and how to navigate it.

The American Founding Era Collection contains digital versions of the published papers of several major figures of the time.  The collections it contains are as follows:

  • The Adams Papers
  • The Papers of Thomas Jefferson
  • The Dolley Madison Digital Edition
  • The Papers of James Madison
  • The Papers of George Washington
  • The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution 
  • The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (coming soon!)
With the exception of the Dolley Madison papers, these are digital editions of the print versions, which have been being published in large, ongoing series for many years.  We do have these print volumes at the VHL (which you can locate by searching SOLO), but the digital versions offer a variety of ways to access the papers and are of course fully searchable - no need to go hunting through indexes or worry you might miss a reference along the way, which for such enormous publications is a huge help.

Note on the Adams Papers: The Founding Era Collection only contains these papers from the founding-generation of the Adams family, and so the bulk of the papers available date from the 18th century.

Note on the Dolley Madison Digital Edition:  This is the first ever complete edition of all Dolley Madison's correspondence. This collection was 'born digital', and is currently complete up to 1837. It is included in and can be accessed via the Founding Era Collection, but also has a separate platform, the one on which it was originally built, which also includes annotations that aren't accessible from the Founding Era platform. There are links across to the standalone platform from each document in the Founding Era Collection so that these annotations can be found easily.

Note on the Papers of Alexander Hamilton: This collection was not available when we initially trialled the resource, but we have decided to add it to our purchase. We will gain access to these papers when they become available later this summer.

How to use the database
As well as the full-text search, the browsing options are very powerful. You can browse collections individually or the whole lot at once, and have a choice of doing so by chronology (date of document) or by contents (order of the documents in the published volumes).  There are also browsable indexes available to the Adams, Jefferson, and Washington Papers.

Once you have started browsing any of the contents, chronology, indexes or your search results, there is a navigation compass to take you forward and back through the different levels and documents.  It looks a bit like part of the background (at least, I didn't realise what it was at first!), so in case it's not just me that overlooked it, I thought it was worth pointing out.  The platform's own guide describes how the compass works as follows:
 The navigation compass can be used to move between different places in the current view. The up and down arrows are used to move up and down within the hierarchy. For example, starting at the top of the contents view and repeatedly clicking the down arrow takes you from the publication to a series to a volume and so on down to individual documents. For the chronology view, doing the same thing takes you from decade to year to month to day to documents within that day. The left and right arrows are used to navigate between adjacent items at the same hierarchical level. Thus, if you are in the level corresponding to volumes of a publication, then clicking the left or right arrow takes you to the preceding or following volume, respectively. Again, if you are at the months level of the chronological hierarchy, then clicking the left or right arrows takes you to the preceding or following month. 
It took me a bit of getting used to, but once you've got your head round the structure of the collection, it is an easy way to move from one part to another.  Next to it you always see where you are in the hierarchy.

The documents themselves are transcribed, not page images, and contain links to notes, explanatory references and other documents where relevant. You can print documents, but there are no options for exporting/saving records other than to make a note of the durable URL given in the citation box at the bottom of each document.  This box is a useful addition though, giving you guidance on how to cite the document in bibliographies, which can often be tricky to know how to do for online resources.

The collections are still being added to, as the print publication projects are still ongoing.  There is also a complementary project, Founders Early Access, which is freely available online as well as accessible within the main site.  The Early Access collection contains documents that are in the process of being prepared for both print and online publication.  Once the documents are added to the main collection, they disappear from the Early Access site.  The link for the Early Access collection is: and you can keep up with updates to it at  It might also be worth pointing out that the University of Virginia is working with the National Archives to make some of the Founders' papers freely available online from 2012

The American Founding Era Collection is accessible via OxLIP+.  If you are away from Oxford, you can get into the database as long as you sign in via SOLO/OxLIP+ first with your University single sign-on.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

New! Online guide to US History sources

I'm pleased to announce the publication of the online Guide to US History Sources, on the Bodleian Libraries' LibGuides site.  This guide replaces the old yellow paper versions which used to be available in the library, and provides links to and information about a whole variety of resources available for research in US History.

The web address for the guide is  The benefits of an online guide are that the links to e-resources are active (if you're not connected to the University network you will need to sign in on SOLO first), and the guide can be easily and frequently updated.  Hopefully it will provide you with an excellent starting point for your research.  Please feel free to make suggestions about more resources to include, or if the guide could be made more user-friendly.  We also have a separate online guide available for US Government Publications, and could potentially create further specific guides in the future.

The online guide is designed to be complemented by this blog, which will continue to go into more depth about individual resources and topics.  I'm also always happy to help you if you have questions about resources available either in the library or online.

Friday, 15 April 2011

April 15, 1912: Sinking of the Titanic

A quick post this one, to point you in the direction of an interesting document we have available in the US Congressional Serial Set.  If you came to the talk on the Serial Set by August Imholtz from Readex in January you'll have seen this before, and we've had it out on display a couple of times, so it may already be familiar. It is however an example of the way that the Serial Set contains documents and primary sources for a huge range of historical events.

Following the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912, the US Senate's Committee on Commerce held a series of hearings into the disaster. The Committee was directed by S.Res 283 'to investigate the causes leading to the wreck', and a large number of people testified, including eye-witness accounts of the disaster itself.  One of these accounts, from a Mrs Emily Ryerson, a passenger on the boat, was used as a source for the 1997 film.  The full hearings document runs to 1170 pages, and you can also access the (much briefer!) final report, submitted to Congress on May 28. 

Link to the full hearings [Oxford users only] Mrs Ryerson's testimony is on pages 1107 and 1108.
Link to the full report [Oxford users only]

I'll be writing a fuller post on the Serial Set, what it contains and how to use it, in due course!  If you're curious in the meantime though, there is a slideshow presentation embedded on our online US Government Publications Guide (click on the 'Legislative/Congressional' tab and then scroll down the page).

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

North American Women's Letters and Diaries

For International Women's Day, here's a blog post on one of our e-resources available via OxLIP+: North American Women's Letters and Diaries.  This database contains 150,000 pages of letters and diaries written by 1,325 women from Colonial times to 1950.  More than 7,000 of these pages are previously unpublished.  The material is drawn from over 600 different sources, including journals, pamphlets, newsletters, monographs and conference proceedings, and was largely collated using existing bibliographies.  It's important to note that much of the material is still in copyright.

The database creators had strict criteria for deciding whether to include material:
  • Authors must be women and must have been resident in North America for a significant time.
  • Materials must have been written contemporaneously. Autobiographical material are excluded, unless they are considered of particular value.
  • Memoirs are included when they are of particular value.
  • Collections of letters begun before 1950 are included until they are complete. Collections of letters written after 1950 are excluded.
  • Diaries that began before 1950 are included until they are complete. Diaries that began after 1950 are excluded.
  • Letters written by men are excluded.
They state that "all age groups and life stages, all ethnicities, many geographical regions, the famous and the not so famous" are respresented by the material contained within the database.  There are also biographies and an extensive annotated bibliography to support the primary source material.

Using the database

There is a variety of ways to access the material within the database. In the top menu bar are the options to browse, find and search. The first few browse options and the simple search are pretty straightforward (browse by author, source, year, and simple full-text keyword search with some options to limit your results by author, year, document type etc), however this database offers some really nice other search/browse options that provide a different way to find material.

Under browse you will find options to browse by place (which also demonstrates that the material in this database has a much wider geographical interest than just North America, even if the authors are all American), historical events (eg Salem Witch Trials, Lincoln's assassination, the sinking of the Titanic), and personal events (death of child, emigration, religious experience, starting a job).  There is also a showcase of a few selected documents of interest.

The difference between find and search is basically whether you are trying to find documents themselves, or search within them.  Under 'find' you have the option to search for sources (ie, the documents) or authors.  Searching for sources will only search on the bibliographic information attached to that document, and will bring you to the record (from where you can click through to the full text).  Searching for authors is useful both when you're trying to find a known author (for which there is also an alphabetical browse index at the top of the search screen), and if you're trying to find authors that match certain criteria - ie, from a certain time period, place, ethnicity, religion etc. By each search box in all the different search screens is a 'terms' button, which will bring up a list of all the terms available in the index that you can select and add to your search - this also effectively offers you another way to browse, or restrict your search to specific subsets of the database.

The search menu options allow you to search within the text of the documents. As well as the usual simple and advanced search options, there are also options to specifically search either letters or diaries, and each search can be limited by a whole variety of different terms.  The advanced search is particularly good if you want to search for something very specific (eg, restricting your search to letters written on military bases).  The advanced search option also allows you to specify a proximity range for more than one search term.  These incredibly detailed search options are a particular strength of this resource.

Where this resource is not quite so amazing is in what you can do with the results when you get them.  Most of the documents are available only as transcriptions, not page images, although there are some page images available.  There also aren't any save, export, or print options, so all you can really do is copy & paste or print directly from your browser (though bear in mind the fact that most of the material is still under copyright, so fair dealing principles apply).  You can however easily click through from the bibliographic records to other documents by the same author or in the same source, as well as access the author's biography (where available).

For more information about this resource, see the publisher's description at:

Thursday, 24 February 2011

African American History Resources, Part Two: pre-20th century, slavery, emancipation etc

To follow up my previous post listing some of the resources we have available for African American history in the 20th century, here I'll set out some of the resources we have for earlier time periods, in particular related to slavery/anti-slavery, emancipation, and the Civil War (another core area of our collection). My period-division here has been very rough, just to avoid having an enormously long post, so some of the resources listed here will reach into the 20th century, and I will also not repeat resources here from my previous post that do cover earlier periods (especially our government publications and newspaper resources).

Microfilm and archival collections

The Freedmen's Aid Society Records cover 1866-1932, and extend to 120 reels of microfilm (guide available at Micr. BX 8235 .F74 2000).  The Freedman's Aid Society was originally founded as the Fugitives' Aid Society with the aim to assist fugitive slaves and to lobby and protest against slavery in the United States. With the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Fugitives' Aid Society became the Freedmen's Aid Society. The organisation sent money and volunteer aid to the South after the defeat of the Confederacy. They also had a strong education initiative and was responsible for the establishment of many historically Black colleges and universities.

One of the major archival collections held in Rhodes House Library (next door) are the Papers of the (British) Anti-Slavery Society. This society, founded in 1835, had as its aim the abolition of slavery throughout the world in general and in the United States in particular. It convened the first World Anti-Slavery Convention, held in London in June 1840, at which some fifty leading American abolitionists were present. After 1840 the society's transatlantic prestige declined and a second convention held in 1843 attracted only a few American delegates. The Society continued to concern itself with American problems and correspond with American abolitionists up to the Civil War but it was affected by the divisions in the American movement and there came a realisation that it could do little to affect the outcome of the Americn situation. If you're interested in consulting papers from this archive, contact staff in Rhodes House Library.  See for more information.

Another archival collection held at Rhodes House is that of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, which was founded in 1701 as a result of an enquiry into the state of the Church of England in the American colonies. Its remit was broadened to encompass evangelisation of slaves and Native Americans. More information can be found at, and again, if you want to consult this archive, contact staff in Rhodes House Library.

In addition to these papers of societies, we have several microfilm collections of the papers of individuals who were active in American politics in the mid-19th century, and which will include material on slavery and emancipation to a greater or lesser extent.  These are the papers of James Buchanan (Micr. USA 458), Salmon P. Chase (Micr. USA 331), William H. Seward (Micr. USA 346), and Thaddeus Stevens (Micr. USA 353).  Abraham Lincoln's papers can be found online via the Libary of Congress, who have digitised around 20,000 documents from the 1850s through to Lincoln's death in 1865.

The Records of the American Colonization Society, founded in 1817 to resettle African Americans in West Africa, cover 1792-1964, but the bulk of the material dates from 1823-1912. There is a guide available at Micr. E 448 .U54 1979, and selections of these records are also available online via

On a similar theme, we also have the Records of the Office of the Secretary of the Interior relating to the suppression of the African slave trade and Negro colonization, which is a comprehensive set of government papers on many aspects of executive federal involvement in colonisation between 1854 and 1872. These are on microfilm at Micr. USA 456, and can also be found online via

Online resources

And finally, here's a list of some of the useful free online resources I have come across relating to African American history pre-20th century, slavery, emancipation etc, all saved on our delicious page for future reference: 
These are just some of the more specific online resources available, but there is so much more to be found in various state digital libraries or wider Civil War web resources, just to point you to two subsets of our delicious list.  Happy hunting!

Credit: some of the text in this post was originally written by the History Librarian, Isabel Holowaty, as I have just borrowed her descriptions where they already existed.

Friday, 18 February 2011

African American History Resources, Part One: 20th Century

February is Black History Month, and so I thought I'd put together a couple of blog posts about some of the resources we have available in the library for African American history.  Resources for African American history are increasingly a particular strength of the VHL's collection, and with our recent acquisition of the electronic archives of two major black newspapers of the 20th century (The New York Amsterdam News, 1922-1993 and The Pittsburgh Courier, 1911-2002 - see this blog post for more information), we are now the only institution in Western Europe to have access to the archives of three black newspapers.  In this first blog post I will focus on 20th century African American history resources, in particular relating to civil rights, and will follow it up (by the end of the month, I promise!) with one on the 19th century and slavery & emancipation.


To start briefly with newspapers and periodicals (but not too extensively, as they were the subject of my last two blog posts), in addition to the three archives mentioned above, we also have a collection of 17 black journals from the first half of the twentieth century available on microfiche (to see which, take a look at our online newspapers-on-microfilm list), as well as an extensive run of the leading African American magazine, Ebony, from 1945-1954 (on microfilm) and then 1958-2008 in print.   If you're looking for really recent African American newspapers, then Ethnic NewsWatch (via OxLIP+) provides coverage of ethnic and minority newspapers from 1990 to the present.

For more information on finding newspapers in general, take a look at the previous two posts on this blog.

Microfilm collections

The Civil Rights Era is a particular strength of our collection, and we have several microfilm collections of papers and records relating to the Civil Rights struggle.   The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) Papers cover 1959-1976, and include the records and papers of this organisation, which was founded in 1942 in Chicago and advocated non-violent direct action to address racial discrimination.  A guide to the microfilm collection can be found at Micr. E 185.61 .C75455 1984.

We only have selections of the Papers of the NAACP, but even so this is a massive collection of records, speeches, reports, correspondence, branch files and campaign information from the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People.  We hold parts 1, 2, 11A, 11B, 12B, 12C, 12D, 26B, 26C, 26D, 28A, 28B, 29A, 29B, 29C, and 29D of this collection (along with guides), which cover a range of topics, locations and dates from 1909-1970.

Another substantial microfilm collection we hold is Civil rights during the Nixon Administration, which record the Nixon administration's broadening of the concept of equal rights beyond desegregation to include affirmative action in hiring women, the elderly, the physically disabled, and an expanding and overlapping list of other groups. Even though the subject matter here is much broader, you will still find records covering the continuing controversy over school desegregation and other topics relating to African American history.

And finally for microfilms, jumping back a little in time, are the Records of the Chicago Commission on Race Relations, which was set up following the riot of July/August 1919 by Illinois governor Frank Lowden.

Government publications and official papers

You can, as expected, find a huge amount of material in our major government publications resources, particularly of course the US Congressional Serial Set (via OxLIP+) where you can browse for publications related to acts such as the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as well as search and browse by subject.

One thing you may not realise that we have though is a lot of the printed civil rights hearings, in particular those before the United States Commission on Civil Rights in the early 1960s - search for civil rights hearings on SOLO.  Many of these are down in our stack, so you will need to place a stack request via OLIS to get them fetched up for you.

I will write further blog posts in the future about finding government publications, so keep an eye on the blog for that if you need more guidance.


Just a quick note that the shelfmark range for African Americans in the Library of Congress classification is E 184.5 - E185.98.  Obviously you can search SOLO to find out what books we have, but if you want to go and browse the shelves, that's where to head for!

Online resources

As ever, there is a huge and growing amount of fantastic primary source material being made available online.   A good starting point is the VHL's delicious page, and the sites we have saved there tagged as African American: particular highlights for the 20th century/civil rights are:

Friday, 21 January 2011

Finding US Newspapers II: On the web and elsewhere in the UK

My last post focused on the newspaper sources that the VHL holds, both in print and as electronic resources.  However, there are a lot more sources of historic US newspapers freely available on the web and in library collections elsewhere in the UK.  This post will point you to some useful sites online where you can find some of these.

Chronicling America (Library of Congress) 
This is the Library of Congress's historic newspapers site, and has two distinct purposes.  One is the Chronicling America Directory, which provides bibliographic information about newspapers published in the United States from 1690 to the present as well as listings of libraries in the States that have copies.   The second is to provide access to thousands of digitised pages of a wide range of newspapers from 1860-1922.   Full-text coverage is only for certain states: Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.   You can restrict your search by state or date range, as well as search within a specific newspaper title.  Pages can be viewed online or downloaded as PDFs or image files.

The Library of Congress also provides a couple of different ways into the collection.  There is the topics interface, which allows you to browse articles relating to a wide range of topics, from Presidential administrations and events such as the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, to the baseball World Series, Butch Cassidy, or Nikola Tesla.  They are also working with Flickr, uploading images of cover pages from the New York Tribune's illustrated newspaper supplements.  They even make their API available, for anyone wanting to create different ways to explore the data.

Google News Archive 
As well as the Google Books project, Google are also digitising thousands and thousands of pages of newspapers, and the Google News Archive page allows you to browse these directly.  It's a very basic interface, with just an alphabetical listing of all the newspaper titles available, and information as to what dates are covered, but once you click on a specific title you are brought to a nice timeline view, from where you can easily browse issues by date.  It being Google, the search function is very straightforward, but there is an advanced search available from the very tiny link next to the search box at the top of the page.
Newspapers on is a subscription website that works with the National Archives to digitise vast quantities of records, images and archival material, as well as encouraging the public to add annotations and upload their own material.   They also have a large collection of digitised newspapers, comprising some 4 million pages.   You can search the collections without signing up, but be aware that a lot of the content is only available to paid subscribers, so you may not be able to see the full-text if you have not paid over your subscription fee.

NewspaperCat is an online catalogue of digitised historical newspapers from the United States and Caribbean, hosted by the University of Florida.  It currently links through to over 1000 titles and is expanding.   You can search or browse by title or location.

Internet Archive
The Internet Archive is the other major site for freely available digitised material on the web, and contains scanned images of books and journals from many major American libraries, including therefore also newspaper issues.   However, tt is not the easiest site to search, particularly for newspapers and periodicals as the search results list doesn't show you the date of the item, you can't browse, and there's no way to limit your search to this kind of material.  Worth checking though if you know the title you're looking for and have struck out elsewhere - you might be in luck!

Various local digitisation projects
Examples on the VHL's delicious page: 
More comprehensive listing on Wikipedia: 
There are a huge number of digitisation projects by University and State libraries, archives and historical societies all over the US, and many of these include newspapers.  Some are distinct projects to digitise runs of specific newspapers, whereas others are wider projects that include newspaper articles, pages or entire issues within them.   I've been saving any I've come across on the VHL delicious page, but find more and more all the time.  There's also an excellent listing available on Wikipedia, as well as one provided by Penn Libraries.   If I haven't already found a site that's useful to you, then it's always worth checking the website of the relevant State Historical Society and major University libraries.  The content available and presentation of the interfaces may vary wildly from place to place, but overall there's an awful lot of good stuff out there.

Newspaper holdings elswhere in the UK
Between them, libraries in the UK hold quite a wide range of US newspapers, so if you can't find things here in Oxford or online, you may well be able to track them down in other libraries.   The best starting place is the British Library Newspaper Library at Colindale, and you can search their newspaper catalogues online.

For other libraries in the UK as well, the British Association of American Studies (BAAS) maintains a list of US newspaper holdings on their website, which can be searched and browsed by title, and will tell you which UK library holds what.  One caveat about this list is that it relies on the invidual libraries updating BAAS when their holdings change, so you'd be wise to check with the individual library that they definitely do have what you're looking for before making a trip.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Finding US newspapers I: Oxford resources

The VHL has just acquired access to the online archives of two new newspapers, The New York Amsterdam News, 1922-1993 and The Pittsburgh Courier, 1911-2002. Along with the access that we already had to the archive of the Chicago Defender, 1910-1975, Oxford is now the only institution in Western Europe with access to three major black newspapers.  We were able to purchase these two major new resources thanks to a generous donation received by the History Faculty, and it brings our total number of US newspaper e-resources up to five (along with The New York Times and Washington Post).  However, if you're looking for US newspapers, this is by no means all we have!   Prompted by our new acquisitions, this blog post will provide a summary of some of the US newspaper sources available in Oxford and how to use them.   A second blog post soon will cover newspapers freely available online and elsewhere in the UK.  News magazines and other periodicals will also largely be left to a subsequent post.

ProQuest Historical Newspapers (online via OxLIP+)
  • The New York Times (1851-2007)
  • The Washington Post (1877-1994) [1995-2005 available on microfilm in the VHL - see below]
  • The Chicago Defender (1910-1975)
  • The New York Amsterdam News (1922-1993)
  • The Pittsburgh Courier (1911-2002)
The above five newspaper archives are all provided by ProQuest and available via OxLIP+.  As they are all available from the same provider, they are cross-searchable with one another, as well as with other ProQuest historical databases (such as the American Periodicals Series or some British and Irish newspapers which Oxford also has access to).   When you click through from any of the titles on OxLIP+, you will be taken to the same ProQuest screen listing available databases.  The historical databases are listed at the bottom of the page so you may need to scroll down. You can then either select several to search, or click on an individual title to just look at that one archive.

Both the basic and the advanced search screen make it easy for you to restrict your searches by date (before, after, or between), and have a 'more search options' tab at the bottom which allows you to search specifically by author or document type (advert, editorial, article, etc).  Once you have found an article that interests you, you can view, download, email and print PDFs of the article itself or the page that the article is on.  You can also get citation information and direct links to the article so that you can come back to it later.   Another useful function is the 'page map' display, which not only shows you the full page, but allows you to click on other articles within the image to view them, putting the article in context within the newspaper as a whole.

The ProQuest platform also offers a range of options for saving records.  You can mark documents both from the article view and from the results list, and they are then available by clicking on the 'My research' tab at the top of the search screen.  From here, there are a variety of options for exporting your list of records - as a printed or emailed bibliography, as citations into reference manager software, or as HTML files.  The email option also allows you to send yourself the articles themselves as PDFs (though you might not want to do this for too many at once!).

19th Century US Newspapers (online via OxLIP+)

 19th Century U.S. Newspapers provides access to approximately 1.7 million pages of primary source newspaper content from the 19th century, featuring full-text content and images from numerous newspapers from a range of urban and rural regions throughout the U.S. The collection encompasses the entire 19th century, with an emphasis on such topics as the American Civil War, African-American culture and history, Western migration and Antebellum-era life among other subjects.

The search interface offers both basic and advanced keyword searching, with options to restrict by location or newspaper title as well as by date and type of article.  In addition there is a newspaper search screen, which allows you to search for specific publications, again with the option to limit by location (state or city).  It is not possible to browse the newspaper titles available but you can download a list of all the newspapers included as a Word document.  Once you have found a newspaper that you are interested in, it is then possible to browse the available issues.

Much like the ProQuest interface described above, you can download PDFs of pages or individual articles, and the same page map facility is also offered here, allowing you to click through to the individual articles from the full page.

Newspapers available on microfilm in the VHL

In addition to the newspaper archives we have access to electronically, the VHL also has a substantial collection of American newspapers on microfilm.   Most of the newspapers we have are either part of the Early American Newspapers collection, or the Black Journals collection, but we also have runs of both the New York Times (the printed index to which is also available in the reference section) and Washington Post from 1851/1877 respectively up to the end of 2005.  For the Washington Post, the electronic version stops in 1994, so the microfilms are the only way to access the years after that.

The titles that make up the Early American Newspapers collection cover the years 1690-1876 (largely 1760-1860), and include titles from all thirteen original states, plus Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Ohio, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.  The VHL holds 79 titles from this collection on microfilm, as well as a guide to the entire collection (in the reference section at Micr. PN 4855 .E18 1987) which contains descriptions of each newspaper.

The Black Journals collection contains 17 titles from the first half of the 20th century, providing a historical record of black Americans and their culture. Titles include The Crisis, Colored American Magazine, Harlem Quarterly, Race Relations and the Tuskegee Messenger.

A list of all the newspapers that we hold on microfilm can be found in the microfilm subject guide in the library, and also viewed online

Ethnic NewsWatch (online via OxLIP+)

This bilingual database (English and Spanish) covers US ethnic and minority newspapers and other periodicals. Coverage begins in 1990, although you can find full-text access to some articles dating further back, and abstracts for more.  A full list of titles included in the database can be found by clicking on the 'Publications' tab at the top of the search screen, and there are also RSS feeds available for current titles if you want to keep up to date.   Ethnic NewsWatch is provided by ProQuest, like the Historical Newspapers, so the search interface should look familiar if you have used those before.  However as it is not a historical database it cannot be cross-searched with those newspapers and must be searched separately.  

Nexis UK (online via OxLIP+)
Nexis UK is a vast database that provides access to thousands of news sources from all over the world. Its coverage is largely current and recent, but does go back 20 years in some cases.  If you want to restrict your search to US newspapers you can do so by selecting 'US news' in the 'sources' box towards the bottom of the search screen.  This will then provide you with a list of available titles to restrict your search further by specific publications if you would like to do so.