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Immigrant Newspapers: Digital Collection of 1860-1890 New York City — Project Plan

Team Members and roles

  • Jennifer Cheng: Developer
  • Sandy Mui: Developer
  • S.C. “Luci” Lucier: Project manager and Outreach
  • Antonios Liamis: Design/UX

Abstract

New York is home to a thriving media sector of hundreds of community and ethnic publications, a large portion of which serve immigrant communities in their respective languages. Taking the historical route, we propose a digital collection in which the parameters are narrowed down to newspapers founded between 1860-1890, and that target about five different immigrant populations. We believe this project would showcase a sliver of immigrant history through the lens of the news media – a perspective that is often overlooked. Through the newspapers that served newcomers in their native language, one can trace immigrant waves and population patterns. For example, German immigration to New York peaked in the 19th century, which can be noted through the abundance of German-language newspapers at the time.

This project would target anyone interested in the history of New York, especially if that interest encompassed immigration and journalism, as well as members of the general public who may have gained a recent interest in immigration groups in light of the current political climate.  In a relatively small way, this site strives to combat some of the hostile contemporary rhetoric directed toward immigrants by providing a reminder of how immigrants have been an integral part of U.S. history and especially New York City history. Contrary to the belief of some, immigrant communities — even back then — lived and thrived in their own enclaves where they spoke and interacted in their own languages. By showcasing these newspapers, this effort would affirm that even in the 1800s, immigrants relied on the familiar — and an important and natural piece of that familiarity included news in their native tongue.

Environmental scan

  • what problem does this solve?

We see this project as a small contribution to the field of digital humanities because it compiles information about historical newspapers, which served to inform and educate a unique group of readers: immigrants living in a new country that had unfamiliar cultures and languages, making survival all the more difficult. There is great value in gathering and exploring the journalistic practices and products of immigrant groups in New York City. Currently, there is no resource that’s solely devoted to displaying information about immigrant newspapers. Our database will centrally organize these newspaper “archives” and findings in a way that provides insight to the groups, the environment, and the time period as a whole. As the website is focused in period, group, and location, greater attention can be placed on seeking images and additional information, as well as ways of presenting the profiles and visualization in a visually-appealing and user-friendly manner.

  • what lacuna does it fill?

There are a few different resources that document or archive newspapers of this time, but they do not all contain the same information centrally. The breadth of documents and information are also not represented well in current platforms. These types of websites are sometimes quite difficult to use when both browsing casually or searching for something specific. Given the vast amount of information in the existing databases, it can be a bit cumbersome at times to find location or community-specific periodicals. An additional feature of this project would be a search tool that finds NYC-centric newspapers based on country of origin, time, place, etc. and also serves as a means of organizing the index portion of the site.

  • what similar projects are there? (and any plans for discovery in the next week)

Numerous databases exist that collect and document historical newspapers in NYC and the rest of the U.S., with one of the most prominent ones being Chronicling America, an initiative of the National Digital Newspaper Program (which is a joint effort between NEH and the Library of Congress). The online database lets users search for U.S.-based newspapers, both past and present, and offers digitized versions of select historical publications. Other similar databases exist such as Readex, 19th Century US Newspapers and the catalogue at the Center for Research Libraries and on ProQuest. Access to these particular sites, for the most part, is given through libraries. Our project would use these databases as resources from which to compile the names and details of the immigrant newspapers in NYC.

Our goal of discovery within the next week is to explore similar sites and develop ideas for specific features that we want as part of our compilation. Ideally, we would provide the user an experience that is more than just an archive of information, such as an interactive map of publication houses or some other visualization of data mined from content. We will be working with around five different subcultures, so there is a great potential for data visualization and highlighting of information, showcased within different elements of the site.

What technologies will be used?

  • which of these are known?

Through a database of these newspapers that will be compiled in the beginning stages of the project, we hope to deliver a website that contains the digital collection of newspaper profiles and a collection of visualizations that present trends and historical information found within the newspaper data and beyond. Our team does not have much experience with complex tools and technologies that exist for creating websites, but the developers (Sandy and Jennifer) have intermediate to advanced knowledge of WordPress and HTML/CSS.

  • which need to be learned?

Outside of general WordPress and HTML/CSS, for the website, our team may also look into Omeka (a free, open-source content management system for online digital collections) or Javascript (a programming language). Our team also does not have much experience with interactive data visualizations, but one possible option we could draw inspiration from is ArtMaps, as mentioned above. This would be useful as an extra module of the webpage. The reader will be able to play with the interactive map after navigating the “archival” collections. Obviously, discovering and settling on our chosen data resources is our highest priority since it will determine specific design choices, technologies, and layouts of web pages.

  • what’s plan to learn them? what support is needed?

We likely will do most of our learning for these technologies online and through our own experimentation/practice with these technologies. However, it may be helpful to attend workshops at the Graduate Center that are offered through the ITP Skills Labs or Digital Fellows. Oftentimes, these workshops are related to website creation and data visualization, which are two quintessential components of our project. And we may reach out to the Digital Fellows during office hours.

How will the project be managed?

This group will be communicating using both Slack, Airtable and Google Docs/Sheets. We will be utilizing these platforms to research and gather information centrally, set and meet deadlines, and discuss content decision-making. The information for the database of newspapers will be collected in Airtable.

Milestones 

  • Week 3—Week 7 (February 12—March 12): Finish compiling newspaper database
  • Week 7—Week 9 (March 12—March 26): Website mock-up #1
  • Week 9—Week 11 (March 26—April 9): Website mock-up #2
  • Week 11—Week 12 (April 9—April 16): Finalize logo
  • Week 12—Week 13 (April 16—April 23): Finish data visualizations
  • Week 13—Week 14 (April 23—April 30): Finish website with all finalized elements (database, logo, data visualizations, etc.)
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One Comment

  1. Posted February 20, 2019 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this update, team. I think the main thing to define right now is your primary audience: are they people looking to find where these newspapers are or were? Hoping to study their own history, changes over time? Are they better served by browsing lists and virtual exhibits, or by being able to make complex searches? Here are some other things to discuss:

    As you consider the project’s official narrative, it will be worth explaining your rationale in more detail. Why did you select these particular immigrant communities? Why did you select this particular timeframe? What has happening in this time and to/with these communities that make them worthy of study? Are there any parallels to be made between that period and now? Will one particular group be used as a test case, or are you working on all of them simultaneously? What is the advantage of doing either?

    In terms of your data structure and choices for taxonomies, consider which elements are absolutely necessary and which can remain null. A database with too many null entries can be problematic and make searching difficult, but it also offers useful opportunities for conversations about what information gets preserved.

    You state that “our database will centrally organize these newspaper “archives” and findings in a way that provides insight to the groups, the environment, and the time period as a whole.” Can you provide some examples of the kinds of research questions the database helps answer?

    I’d like to know more about how you will build “profiles and visualization in a visually-appealing and user-friendly manner”–what particular tools or platforms are ideal for this? What precisely makes them user-friendly?

    As you revise your work plan consider breaking it down on a week to week basis to account for more granular detail/steps, smaller deliverables, potential test cases, and time spent on downloading, entering, and cleaning data if necessary.

    Finally, keep in mind that it’s good practice to contact projects whose data you’re using and confirming that you have their permission to alter and reproduce their work. They are part of your audience and potential stakeholders in the project, so it’s good to make them aware of your project.

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