Immigrant Newspapers Final Paper

DH Praxis Final Paper

Immigrant Newspapers


Group Members

Sandy Mui: Research and Development

Sandy contributed to the Immigrant Newspapers project as a Developer, overseeing the conception and composition of the website that houses the digital collection of newspapers, based on her experience with WordPress and website management. Like other group members, she also contributed to research about immigrant newspapers.

Jennifer Cheng: Research and Development

In her role as a Developer, Jennifer helped set up the initial database for collecting newspaper titles and information from Chronicling America and also gathered additional details from historical directories and other sources. She also managed the data cleaning and put together the map.

Antonios Liamis: UX Designer, User Interface Developer

In his role as UX Designer and User Interface Developer, Antonios visualized and set up the layout for the website through back- and front-end development work, created a logo identity for the project,wireframing, debugging, research and UX design. In terms of the initial database for collecting newspapers titles and information, he also gathered lists of existing databases for the collection of publications and extracted useful data from those online collections and archives.

S.C. Lucier: Project Manager

Luci was the Project Manager of Immigrant Newspapers and also headed outreach. She was excited to be building relationships with other databases and libraries for this project, especially due to her studies of museum science and future interest in interactive archival exhibit-building.

Project Narrative


Immigrant Newspapers was conceived through an interest in journalistic practices of the past and a curiosity for the publication and distribution of newspapers within immigrant communities. Our goal was to centrally collect these primary sources and display them in a public forum, with the purpose of aiding in the restoration of the historical narratives of these groups in their own words. 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. Focusing on historical press, we proposed a digital collection in which the parameters are narrowed down to newspapers founded between 1860-1890, and that targeted speakers of eight different languages.

We believed this project would showcase a sliver of immigrant history through the lens of the news media – a perspective that is often overlooked. News manufactured for the white population has been considerably better documented throughout history. By studying the newspapers that served those who recently arrived – in their native language – one can trace immigrant waves and population patterns. For example, German immigration to New York peaked in the latter half of the 19th century, which can be noted through the abundance of German-language papers at the time (Galka).

This project targets anyone interested in the history of New York City, especially if that interest encompasses immigration and journalism, as well as members of the general public who may have gained a recent interest in immigration 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 helps affirm that even in the 1800s, immigrants relied on the familiar — and an important and natural piece of that familiarity included reading newspapers in their native tongue.

Environmental Scan

How does Immigrant Newspapers fit into the scope of the digital humanities? Digital archives, often found in museums, libraries and universities, represent a fundamental aspect of the field for their preservation and presentation of historical and contemporary material. In their writings on the subject, Susan Hockey and Lisa Spiro cite the examples of The William Blake Archive and the Rossetti Archive. Each presents a gallery of searchable texts and images on a website to preserve a historical subject matter while educating visitors. These websites gather a wealth of information all in one location and while it does not compare to visiting a museum or perusing a physical book in a library, it certainly provides an initial springboard for a student or an aficionado before they delve further into the subject. Many digital archives adhere to “openness” — an intrinsic value of the digital humanities – which uses Creative Commons licenses or “make their content freely accessible without explicitly using such open licenses” (Spiro). With these concepts in mind, we sought to gather textual and visual information on newspapers as a way to preserve a piece of the past using modern technology. We also sought to make it accessible and open to anyone with an interest in the field and an internet connection.

We see this project as a small contribution to the field of digital humanities in that it compiles information about the historical newspapers that served to inform and educate a particular group of readers: immigrants living in a new country of an unfamiliar culture and language, 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. Not only would studying the periodicals give insight into the issues and interests of different groups of city residents in the late 19th century, it would be a useful tool for comparing immigrant groups of the past and present within the same city through the unique lens of journalism. How have newspapers helped recently-arrived immigrants adapt to their new land? Can we learn anything about an immigrant group’s culture from the advertisements in its newspapers? How much of the newspaper includes news from the home country, and how much of it contains local news? As primary sources, newspapers can provide distinct perspectives of a community through its collection of news, letters and advertisements. And while our project does not actually include a newspaper’s content beyond an image of a few pages, it does serve as a reference of what newspapers existed in the latter half of the 1800s and where archives of them can be found. From there, an educator, student or anyone with an interest in history or immigration can pursue further studies.

Currently, there is no resource that’s solely devoted to compiling information about historical New York City-based immigrant newspapers. Our database centrally organizes these newspaper “archives” and findings in a way that provides insight into the groups, the city environment and the time period with the help of visuals and details on the newspapers in our collection.

There are a few different resources that document or archive newspapers of this time, but they do not all contain the same information centrally. Given the vast amount of details in the existing databases, it can be a bit cumbersome at times to find locations or community-specific periodicals. 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 that is a joint effort between the National Endowment for the Humanities 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, America’s Historical Newspapers, the catalogue at the Center for Research Libraries, and on ProQuest. Access to several of these sites is given through libraries or academic institutions, limiting the number of people able to use them. Our project would use these databases as resources from which to compile the names and details of the immigrant newspapers in NYC, in addition to make it open to anyone with an internet connection.

Project Contributions

  1. Who is the primary audience?
    • People with an interest in immigration and/or media history, particularly in NYC
    • People with and/or interested in European ancestry
    • Students, educators, scholars of urban/immigration/media history
  2. What are the research questions that will be asked of and facilitated with this database?
    • Can immigration trends and patterns be reflected in the number and/or “activeness” of the immigrant newspaper sector?
    • How do newspapers reveal similarities between immigrants today and in the 19th century?
    • How can newspaper content and advertisements reflect the culture of an immigrant group, and at the same time, indicate how they adapted to their new city and country?

Our audience will be able to utilize this website as a supplemental learning and research tool, from which they can further develop their interests and research. It provides visual information that aids in the historical narrative of the groups we are representing. Our project also calls to attention the need for preservation of primary documents. It is our hope that this value is more easily accessed by using our database.

Project Activities

Initial Goals (Original Timeline of Deliverables)

Week 4:

  • Reach out to New York Public Library (NYPL) research librarian and possibly other individuals
  • Finalize domain name
  • Explore WordPress platform and possibility of Omeka and Neatline

Week 5:

  • Finalize online research of newspaper databases
  • Determine whether to drop any languages
  • Contact ethnic organizations, university departments

Week 6:

  • Draft wireframes for design of introductory page: search tool + layout of newspapers

Week 7:

  • Visit NYPL and New York Historical Society (NYHS)

Week 8:

  • Start social media outreach
  • Determine based on data what visualizations will be feasible: animated timeline, Carto time series map, histograms, ArtMaps

Week 9:

  • Finalize layout of main page and start implementing design and inputting data

Week 10:

  • Sketch logo ideas

Week 11:

  • Finalize logo
  • Finalize main page of digital collection

Week 12:

  • Write up pages for website: about, team, FAQ, contact form, additional links
  • Deadline for Social Media launch: March 30

Deadline for public-facing site launch: April 30

  • Download WordPress theme
  • Test interactive map on the theme
  • Transfer data and information onto website
  • Plan blog posts and features
  • Update project summaries, bios

Preliminary Research

Our research began by compiling a preliminary list of titles from all known existing sources, the genesis database being Chronicling America. The current project has a necessary limited scope based on our semester timeline restrictions and capabilities: we focused on papers that began publishing between 1860 and 1890, served immigrant communities, and were located within the boundaries of 19th-century New York and its surrounding communities (which are today considered boroughs). This was based on the healthy variety of languages, communities served and publications documented to have existed within this period. The increasing diversity of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe who arrived during 1860-1890 enabled us to include Italian, Swedish, Czech and Yiddish papers in addition to Irish publications and those serving German-, French- and Spanish-speakers. There were not too many Russian and Polish papers at the time, so we did not include them in the database. We began by searching existing archival resources for historical presses, then looked through microfilm reels at the New York Public Library to obtain newspaper images.

The decision was made to present this data using a historical map. Ideally, we wanted to provide the user with an experience that is more than just an archive of information, and we felt that a map would most successfully visualize our information and provide geographical context of New York City within the period. Exploring locations so central to the daily lives of these groups also aids in our pursuit of the restorative narrative. But for this, we needed addresses. If we could find images of the newspapers, we could inspect the masthead or the publisher’s note – which is usually found on the upper left of page four – and be able to collect addresses of the publishing house or editorial office.


Research and Data Gathering

Although we ended up delivering on the primary components of our work plan, we encountered roadblocks and had to make adjustments particularly during the research and data gathering phases of our project. We went to work obtaining images of as many of the newspapers on our list that we could find, mostly through the NYPL’s microfilm collection and select online archives. The process of sorting through the microfilm listings within the library and seeking out those films was exhausting, and we heavily underestimated how long this process would take. In our original work plan, we allocated only Week 7 to visiting the NYPL and NYHS for microfilms, but the process of gathering them at the NYPL ended up stretching across many weeks. We also realized that gathering images of newspapers from the NYHS was more difficult than expected due to inconvenient opening hours, newspapers only being available in physical form, and the inability to take photographs of the newspapers. Thus, for our project, we solely proceeded with obtaining images of microfilms from the NYPL.

However, discrepancies in the information on the publication made it difficult to truly obtain films that the library was recorded to have in their possession. Sometimes information was incorrect regarding the inclusion of a particular paper in a reel, and there were instances of reels that could no longer be located. When images of the newspapers themselves were unable to be found for many of the publications, we began to search historical directories for newspaper listings and advertisements that would contain addresses of offices associated with the newspapers, whether they were the editorial offices or the printing company.

The original number of newspaper titles collected from Chronicling America in our period was 133 publications. Of those, we were only able to include 76 on our site based primarily on address availability: 53 of those images are of the papers themselves, while the rest are images of directory listings and ads. (fig. 1) Most of the 76 profiles that were included in our collection were made possible through our own data collection and generation from primary source materials.


Fig. 1

While we have selected only certain parts of the data provided in Chronicling America, it currently remains as “raw” data in the sense that the values had to be made consistent. We had to take into consideration the following when cleaning the data: format of addresses, how to handle missing information such as years of operation, what kind of additional notes to include in the final product, what information to take out, etc.


Creating the map was a patience-testing exercise in trial and error. We established early on that we would use a picture of a historical map, but how would it read the geographic coordinates? What program would we use to create it?

We began building our interactive map with the ArtMap tool, a widget the Tate Gallery in London had used to map their collection. Although the design was appealing and the concept appeared to align perfectly with our project, we experienced quite a few technical problems with the JavaScript code. The code did not have enough compatibility with the WordPress platform with which we wished to integrate, so we couldn’t use it in the end.

Eventually, some of the answers for the appropriate map tool to use emerged from a NYPL blog post entitled “From Paper Maps to the Web: A DIY Digital Maps Primer.” On the same site, we found a georeferenced illustrated map from 1893 of much of [what is today considered] New York City, meaning that one can “pin” markers to the map using longitude-latitude coordinates fed into the code.

Using a historical illustration scanned from a book as the base map, however, had additional difficulties: How do you keep the user within the boundaries of the “page” so that they don’t see the edges? And what would we do about the newspaper offices that were located beyond the boundaries of the illustration? Addressing these issues seemed to exceed the capabilities of tools like Esri Story Maps, Carto and Tableau, so we settled on coding the map by hand. Having little JavaScript experience, we ended up using the Leaflet JavaScript library and following their tutorials, as well as go by Stack Overflow answers, and tweaking various blocks of code to create the map. This gave us the ability to deal with some of the challenges imposed by working in a historical context – for example, setting a high enough “zoomed out” level so that the edges of the page and beyond are not visible, and setting the longitude-latitude coordinates in the code that would establish the geographical boundaries of the map and not let the visitor “drag” or toggle the map past those borders. As for the offices located outside those boundaries, we noted on the tooltip that it would be off the map, an untechnical but doable solution.

By pooling ideas together on how to improve the user experience in using the map – that might not have come about had we done this individually – we eventually settled on what would become our final map product.

Data Collection, Storage and Protection

The implementation, monitoring and adhering to the data management plan was a collective effort. This is primarily due to the means by which our team was acquiring the data for some (projected) 130 publications – from using Chronicling America as a starting point for background information, to gathering visuals and addresses through microfilm reels and historical directories. We split up the research according to immigrant groups and compiled the information in a central spreadsheet.

This project has produced three types of data. One type of simple data is in the form of microfilm image captures, as well as the images used for our map. Another type is spreadsheets of newspaper documentation information and office locations. The third type of data is code for the WordPress site and the map.

During the research and collecting phase, Luci used an external hard drive solely for the purpose of storing the data. The information that was collected was not confidential or sensitive, so there were not many steps needed to be taken to ensure safety in that manner.

At intermediate points of completion during the project, records of the data published on our website were transferred to a repository on a Github account.

Data Access, Sharing and Archiving

We uploaded our data to GitHub for the benefit of anyone who may wish to build off our project, despite this not being one of our project’s primary goals. After we uploaded all the text and images to the hosting server The Graduate Center provided, we then made a backup of all the files to ensure that there is no danger of losing anything if we no longer have access to the hosting server or domain name.

Since it has been our goal to invite collaboration and promote open data with users of the site and other databases, all of our sources have been cited and linked. This accompanies the capability for users to download our information. We have credited the origin of our images throughout our website and actively provided source links.

Changes During Method of Data Entry

As the data for the newspaper information began accumulating, we decided to eliminate the “facts” section since it would vary in format and content across the newspapers, and we didn’t want to include all the information found on the Chronicling America profile pages. We also excluded additional locations, such as Boston or other cities, as we wanted to keep the focus on the New York region, and there was the possibility of some locations being left out on Chronicling America. Thus, to avoid the potential for inconsistencies and additional research, we left this out, as well as communities beyond immigrant groups – such as religious or political groups. These audiences could be worth adding if we expand the project in the future.

Little by little, as we conducted research outside of Chronicling America through historical directories and books, we had to change some of the entered data. We ran across inconsistencies between information found on the newspapers and in the directories when it came to years of operation, publication frequency and locations. In most cases, we went with the information from the earliest year we could find. This meant that in those cases, what is listed as the address in the profile will not be what’s listed in the accompanying newspaper image. If the opportunity for additional research arose, details such as when a newspaper changed its frequency or address could be included in the profile and would be another means of tracking a newspaper’s lifespan. For example, what might have started out as a daily could end up as a weekly, or even a monthly, once an immigration wave died down.

Then came the task of organizing the visual data, which we stored in a shared Google Drive folder. For the newspaper images gathered from microfilm, we received them from the library’s system as PDF files. These had to be converted to PNG images. With one or more of these images for over 50 newspapers, on top of the images from the directories, the total file size for our visuals quickly exceeded the allotted 2 GB of space on the website server. This meant going back and resizing and re-saving images or removing some altogether.

We used these programs to help facilitate our data gathering, and data editing:

        1. Airtable: Airtable was used to maintain the newspaper master list. This program allowed for the easiest way to track information that was gathered on each publication. However, this also meant that we would need to clean data as it was entered into the spreadsheet for the purposes of creating uniformity. Once the portfolio pages of each newspaper were ready to be built on the site, our Airtable spreadsheets were incredibly helpful and made loading data to pages very easy. The data on these newspaper profiles has been cleaned and adjusted to reflect information we have researched and discovered to be true, not necessarily including  – yet certainly encompassing – all of the variants in information that we discovered in our research according to different sources.
        2. Google Drive: Drive was helpful in sharing common documents and spreadsheets that allowed the group to work on multiple aspects of the project at once. We used the site to hold the original PDF files and then the converted PNG images.
        3. WordPress: The WordPress site demanded some changes to some of our data and images for the purposes of proper display within the website theme. The team was required to adjust image sizes in most cases.



We felt it was important to ensure that our data would easily communicate with other open source platforms, and we built our site with the intention of seeking contributors and collaborators to our efforts. This was achieved by using WordPress as our content management system, which is free to use and modify, has free migrations, ultimate speed and backup on a daily basis. All of our website data is also backed up in a Github account, which archives and saves our work for future researchers.

After installing our WordPress theme, we:

  1. Took notes of the current theme in order to adjust based on our wireframes. We went through the theme files and noted down all additional code that we added.
  2. Activated the maintenance mode because we wanted to ensure that all the changes that everybody was doing could be retrieved in case the website went down, etc.
  3. Upon activating the theme, retained all the functionality widgets, and the plugins still worked.
  4. Tested that our website had multiple browser compatibilities and was also capable of playing responsively on tablets and mobile phones.
  5. Tried to improve our website based on user feedback from our peers. We fixed as many bugs as possible.

Functionalities and Affordances

Map and Gallery

The first feature that we built to present our data is the interactive map, a georeferenced 1893 illustration from a New York City atlas. It has been populated with pin markers at located addresses of each newspaper in our database. The grid covers nearly the entire city and what was considered the separate municipalities of Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx/Westchester at the time. This allows the user to interact with the publications within the context of the New York region, and aids in the visualization of groupings of communities and proximity of locations.

The marker color code signifies the language of the newspaper. Languages can be eliminated or included through use of our checkbox key, and the search bar allows for pin-finding by publication title. Each pin opens a tooltip box that displays basic pertinent information about the newspaper, including an image of the masthead or directory listing.

Clicking on the link in the tooltip opens the profile page for the paper, showing all of the information and images we have about that publication. Titles, languages, communities served, years of press, address and research sources can be found on profile pages.

The second way in which to currently view our database is via the gallery. We wanted to provide a way in which to view our collection in its totality. The gallery allows for browsing by image of front page or listing. It’s also possible to filter the papers by language. Hovering over the images will show the title and language, and clicking will open the newspaper’s profile page.

Environmental Information and Features

Alternative ways to have some fun on our site currently include viewing the blog to find historical factoids and other interesting things that we stumbled upon during our research. Some of our posts cover popular advertisements found in the papers, background on unique illustrations or information about special typography.

In our effort to create a more complete experience for our users as they navigate this time period and data, we included historical information in various corners of our site and have been inspired by this information throughout our design choices. For example, our logo is a homage to the very top peak of Castle Garden. Before Ellis Island was complete in 1892, Castle Garden was the first official port of immigration for the United States during the years in which our project is focused. It’s estimated that roughly 8 to 12 million immigrants passed under that very peak on their way to settling in this country and eventually becoming citizens. We would like to think that some of these people were readers of the newspapers in our collection, or perhaps even journalists, publishers and editors.


Peer Review

We asked a journalist to take a look at our site, and she gave feedback primarily on the text, pointing out that we should clarify the geographic boundaries of New York City prior to 1898 – that at the time “New York City” included Manhattan with Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx/Westchester being separate municipalities. We then adjusted the copy across the site to underscore this distinction as opposed to our originally rather vague text. This feedback, coupled with Luke Waltzer’s advice on bringing in more historical context for our project, prompted us to add additional copy and include a timeline to give more background on the New York region during 1860-1890.

We also asked a data analyst for feedback, particularly on the map. The popup window was originally very text-heavy, so he suggested using more visuals to avoid crowding the small space with text. We replaced, for example, “primary language” with an icon of speech bubbles, giving the popup more space. Luckily, the WordPress theme had an icon set pre-installed that we could draw from for this task – and which we also used in the profiles. He added that there should be some kind of color key to let the user know what languages the different-colored markers actually signify without having to click on them first. The text color in the toggle checklist of languages was changed to reflect the colors. He also echoed input given by Andie and group members to add a thumbnail image to show the full extent of the map and improve the toggle checklist, and to add a search bar. All of these suggestions provided a better user experience and was only possible by getting input from different people.

Publicising Results

Social Media Outreach (Instagram)

We have published and are developing an Instagram page to post photos that are similar to our blog posts or other specifications of information that can be found on our site. The hope is to use this social media platform as a method by which to drive traffic to our site using interesting images. We write captions for these images that are mostly open-ended questions or “teasers” of information, and remind the viewer that our website link is in the bio.

Attempts To Find A Consultant

There were quite a few attempts made to reach out to leaders in the areas of New York City history, museology, public exhibition, preservation/archive and digital humanities. We spoke with the authors that specialized in historical records of the area, such as Esther Crain of Ephemeral New York. All seemed very interested in our project and excited about the prospect of working with us, but ultimately lacked the time to commit to being involved in the process regularly. It wasn’t until the very last few weeks of work that we were able to get in touch with Dr. Annie Polland, the Director of the Jewish Historical Society. Dr. Polland has used much of the Yiddish newspaper archives of the 19th century for her own research (and as previous Director of the Tenement Museum, to build her exhibits). She was similarly interested in the project, but had little to contribute as we were already in the coding phase. Regardless, all of those we consulted with offered to share our project on their social media platforms due to our impressive work.

DH Showcase

The DH Showcase was a great experience to prepare for and to participate in. It illustrated to the group all of the things we had accomplished over the course of the semester, and helped us to identify the aspects of the project that were most successful. Preparing for the showcase solidified our “talking points” and the major points of interest that make our project interesting and marketable. Condensing all of the information surrounding our process into a five-minute elevator pitch certainly helped the group decide on the most effective aspects of our work. While presenting at the showcase, experiencing the reactions of the audience members and the excitement that was generated from our presentation was also a learning experience. Being so close to and involved with the project for a long period of time limits your scope of its effects, so it was a very rewarding experience to share all of our progress and achievements with new people.

Future of the Project/Sustainability

It is our hope that users enjoy the current representative sample we have gathered at any given stage of the site’s completeness, and perhaps think of the information we could not find as an important reason for the work to continue. Immigrant Newspapers does not currently represent a comprehensive archive of publications or communities residing in New York City in the late 19th century. However, our database does have the exciting capability to expand in population and period.

There is a definite interest within our group to continue with this project, although it has not yet been decided how we would be moving forward in our work. The interest and desire to continue stems from the fact that we were unable to include a full representation of communities over the short time-span of our semester’s work plan. There is much work left undone in the research and gathering of data, so there would be a rich future available in the continuation of this project.  

This immense capability for expansion is certainly a strength of the project, but can also be identified as a foreseen challenge. The amount of time that the group put into researching and gathering/generating data was immense, which is acceptable and necessary during the pursuit of an “MVP” of a project. However, that scale of work could easily become unmanageable during the process of unending expansion. It would certainly be a little easier to not focus on both the site and databases at the same time. Since formats have already been created, the group would not be completing two sides of this project simultaneously in quite the same way. Regardless, the time commitment for upkeep and expansion is the greatest challenge.

Long Term Impact

“Can immigration trends and patterns be reflected in the number and/or ‘activeness’ of the immigrant newspaper sector?” This is the question that defines the potential of the long-term impact that this project may have in the field. The information that may be gleaned from the collection and display of the data on our website could potentially lead to the exploration of trends that foster new discoveries in historical research. Additionally, it is our hope to aid in the restorative narrative that these primary sources provide when included in a public forum space. Members of these communities may use the availability of this information for their own needs. The presence of these voices may also lead to increased positivity in the general culture surrounding immigrant communities.


  • Project URL:
  • Instagram: @immigrant_newspapers


Works Cited

Galka, Max. “Where Do New Yorkers Come From?” Metrocosm, 23 Apr. 2015,

Hockey, Susan. “The History of Humanities Computing.” A Companion to Digital

Humanities. Edited by Susan Schreibman et al., Blackwell, 2004,

Spiro, Lisa. “‘This Is Why We Fight’: Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities.”

Debates in the Digital Humanities: 2012. Edited by Matthew K. Gold. University of Minnesota Press, 2012,


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