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U. of Tennessee Wins Grant to Digitize Newspapers

In two years, students, historians, and anyone else curious about nearly a century of history should have 100,000 pages of Tennessee newspapers at their fingertips. The University of Tennessee at Knoxville has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to digitize local newspapers from 1836 to 1922.

“This is telling what the people of the time experienced at the time they experienced it,” says JoAnne Deeken, head of technical services and digital access at the university system’s libraries. “We can relive it through their eyes.”

The state’s history during the period covered by the project includes the forced relocation of American Indians, known as the Trail of Tears, which began in Tennessee; the Battle of Shiloh, during the Civil War; and the state’s ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women’s suffrage the two-thirds majority it needed to pass. Tennessee is “a very important state during this time period,” Ms. Deeken says.

The $325,165 grant is part of the National Digital Newspaper Program, a project to digitize historical newspapers from across the country. The pages from Tennessee’s newspapers will be available on the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America Web site and later on the university library’s Web site.

The newspapers’ increased accessibility will add richness and color to historical scholarship, says Stephen D. Engle, a professor of history at Florida Atlantic University who specializes in the Civil War and Reconstruction.

“The value of digitizing these is just overwhelming,” he says, explaining that regional newspapers tended to “not only capture the mood of the people” but “direct” it.

An advisory group will be assembled to select the newspapers that will be included in the digitization effort. The library plans to apply for other funds to expand the project’s scope, Ms. Deeken says.

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