Libraries offer a research guide to locate historical newspapers

Newspapers, often called the "first draft of history," provide access to hard-to-find primary resources, but until recently they remained less accessible due to the time needed by the researcher to wade through stacks of newsprint in hopes of finding useful information. Now in a matter of seconds, keyword searches in digitized databases with hundreds of newspapers can be completed. Small-town newspapers can shed light on little known circumstances of historical importance. Searchable access to a wide range of newspapers can point to overlooked information for even the most famous figures in history or for forgotten individuals, such as African Americans, whose papers may not have been preserved. The success of these searches may even lead to a rewrite of some of history.

According to Librarian Eric Novotny, "The libraries diverse newspaper holdings create exciting opportunities for historical research -- scholars can easily compare northern and southern responses to the Emancipation Proclamation, or search early medical advertisements to track health concerns. I have seen how students' light up when they discover firsthand reports of the events they have been reading about in class. An editorial cartoon casually stereotyping Irish and Chinese immigrants conveys nativist attitudes with an immediacy and impact that cannot be equaled in a textbook, making newspapers powerful teaching tools." 

To assist the researcher, Penn State University Libraries have created an expansive research guide to historical newspaper databases. Available at, the databases are organized as American and International, Penn State, Periodical Press, Microfilm and Microfiche Collections, Directories, and Additional Newspaper Sources, and many include full-page reproduction.

A selection of databases include:

-- African-American newspapers, 1827–1998

-- Black historical newspapers, 1910–2002

--  America's historical newspapers, 1690–1922

-- Nineteenth century U.S. newspapers

-- Nineteenth century British newspapers

-- Chicago Tribune historical, 1849–1986

-- New York Times historical, available from 1851

--  The Times of London, 1785–1985

A bonus tool provided by the Libraries, NewsCAT at helps to further determine which news database includes the newspaper titles and years of coverage needed for specific research. Easy to use, the site includes a tips section as well as a tutorial. Searches can include single or combined entries based on geographic location, language, time period, among others. 

Since 2008, Penn State's Digitization and Preservation Department have participated in the campaign to digitize newspapers through the he National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP), a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Library of Congress (LC). A long-term effort, the project is developing an Internet-based, searchable database of U.S. newspapers with descriptive information and select digitization of historic pages. Supported by NEH, this rich digital resource is being developed and permanently maintained at the Library of Congress. Recently Chronicling America, the popular online resource that provides access to the nation’s historic newspapers, posted its 5 millionth page. The Chronicling America website,, is a free, searchable database of historic U.S. newspapers.

For more information, contact Eric Novotny, history librarian,, 814-865-1014, or Debora Cheney, Foster Communications Librarian,, 814-863-1345.



Last Updated November 21, 2012