Texas Digital Newspapers Feed Historical Research on Slavery

If you walk up to Dr. Andrew Torget at the University of North Texas and Dr. Caleb McDaniel at Rice University, ask them what they think of newspapers.  These professors will start to talk to you about how they look at 19th-century newspaper issues over a series of years and use them as records for reading voting patterns or for learning about slavery in Texas.  Torget, McDaniel, and their students have collaborated on extensive research on newspapers available in the Texas Digital Newspaper Program to build the Texas Runaway Ads (@TxRunawayAds) Twitter feed—displaying actual runaway slave advertisements that appeared in newspapers published between 1836 and 1860 such as the Telegraph and Texas Register, the Austin State Gazette, and the Clarksville Northern Standard.  According to Torget, his UNT graduate students selected these specific titles because, “They represented the three main geographies of 1850s Texas—a southeast newspaper, a northeast newspaper, and a western paper.”  Those geographical regions were centers of agricultural commerce in Texas during the mid-19th century, and their newspapers are some of the earliest available in the Texas Digital Newspaper Program.

This collaborative project has had significant impacts for the students working with both Torget and McDaniel, particularly in terms of how the students are able to communicate across institutions to better understand the historical period.  For example, one of the most interesting and surprising finds within the Texas Runaway Ads was an ad placed by William Marsh Rice, the founder of Rice University.  According to McDaniel, “It’s a very rare, important glimpse into Rice’s relationship to slavery, especially since it names the enslaved woman, Merinda, who escaped from him.”  The importance of collaboration was strongly evinced by the appearance of this advertisement: it was originally located by UNT graduate students, who were then able to notify their Rice counterparts.  The Rice graduate students then contextualized its significance within the wider framework of Texas history during the 19th century.  This type of primary source research gives students a first-hand account of events, thus allowing them to read from multiple perspectives of people in history:

“Unfortunately, the primary sources on slavery in the United States are limited. These sources are usually written from the perspective of the slaveholder and often reduce slaves to their monetary value. This can make it difficult for historians to learn about the personal experiences, attitudes, and relationships of enslaved men and women. Among these primary sources, runaway advertisements offer one of the best glimpses into the names, personalities, and experiences of individual slaves, as well as into the institution of slavery as a whole” (http://ricedh.github.io/05-twitterbot.html). 

The Runaway Slave Ads project goes one step further by displaying the text from ads on current social media, Twitter (https://twitter.com/TxRunawayAds). According to Dr. McDaniel, “We decided that placing the ads in social media streams, rather than on websites with standalone images of the ads, would more closely resemble the context in which they originally appeared---surrounded by other ads and quotidian news content.” During the 19th-century, and well into the 20th-century, newspapers were the social media of the day.  Commonplace were ads about who visited whom in which town, who was recovering from what illness, and even who had run away from a slaveholder.  According to Dr. Torget, “The idea of exploring and mapping these ads through digital means seemed to open the door to new insights into what runaway slave ads might be able to tell us about both Texas and slavery during the years before the Civil War.”  The Texas Runaway Ads, in aggregate, is intended to help current researchers connect the names of people who were slaves with their geographic locations and, sometimes, family members.

These ads are already opening channels of communication across the history discipline to broaden our understanding of the 19th-century before the Civil War, as Seth Rockman, Professor of History at Brown University, states on his Twitter feed. A similar project by Kyle Ainsworth out of Stephen F. Austin University is the Texas Runaway Slave Project.  Intended to document the names of individual runaway slaves, this project also uses newspapers from the Texas Digital Newspaper Program with the goal of providing identity to those people about whom little primary source evidence exists. 

The Texas Runaway Ads and the Runaway Slave Project utilize open source technology intended to help people in the research community use digital tools to aggregate significant historical information in one place.  This type of aggregation builds awareness of life in the past, provides faculty researchers with a platform for developing classroom materials, and gives students the opportunity to trace individuals across different ad postings, geographic locations, and activities.  For example, the Texas Runaway Ads Twitter feed displays the runaway ads, one per tweet, and includes a link back to the original newspaper from which the individual ad originates.  Any users of the feed can then use the aggregation of the ads via the feed to trace specific names, counties, or dates, but can also directly link to the newspaper page to get a rich context of an individual case. 

The Texas Digital Newspaper Program is dedicated to supporting any kind of research.  The work that Drs. Torget and McDaniel and their students are doing exemplifies how digital humanities research can broaden our vision into the past and can open new communication pathways across research disciplines. 





Honors College Releases the 2014 Issue of The Eagle Feather

The Eagle Feather, an interdisciplinary undergraduate research journal at UNT, celebrated the publication of Issue 11 on October 7, 2014. The current issue contains 33 student research projects in biological sciences, linguistics and technical communication, teacher education, social and behavioral sciences, sociology, political science, and English.

Highlights include:

  • The addition of two new faculty editors — Dr. James Duban and Dr. Diana Elrod
  • A special feature collection of poetry
  • Inclusion of research articles produced in two of UNT’s new core capstone classes — linguistics and sociology
  • Research articles examining the lives of women in colonial America
  • Mentor of the year — Dr. Jeanne Tunks
  • Department of the year — Department of Biological Sciences
  • Where Are They Now? — Highlighting student researchers from the 2005 issue

The User Interfaces Unit receives research articles in Word document format beginning in July of each year and transforms them into an electronic journal format. We have provided services and website maintenance to The Eagle Feather since 2004.

Texas Digital Newspaper Program: Two Million Pages Preserved

Recently, the Texas Digital Newspaper Program (TDNP) reached two million pages of Texas newspapers on The Portal to Texas History.  Made digitally available from microfilm, physical pages, and PDF e-print editions, the newspapers offer a glimpse into daily life in Texas from 1829 to the present.  The collection represents communities from across Texas with newspapers from high schools, colleges, large cities, small towns, and special interest groups.

The Digital Newspaper Team supports any kind of Texas newspaper preservation, and each member’s effort advances the larger success of TDNP and the communities who have added their newspapers to the collection.  Individuals, community societies, and institutions have all contributed to the TDNP in order to preserve their heritage and support research and education on a worldwide scale. We particularly wish to thank the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Tocker Foundation, the Ladd and Katherine Hancher Foundation, and the Abilene Library Consortium for their generous patronage.

The two million page milestone does not just represent the work of the Digital Newspaper Team at UNT; it also shows how much newspaper preservation and access mean to communities throughout Texas.  On November 6, 2014, the UNT Libraries will host a celebration for the partners who have made this possible, at which point the Texas Digital Newspaper Program will approach 2.5 million pages!

Authors Guild, Inc. v. Google, Inc., 954 F. Supp. 282 (S.D.N.Y 2013) and Fair Use Revisited

In revisiting this case, we remember that Google entered into agreements with numerous libraries such as Harvard University, the New York Public Library, and the Library of Congress to digitize millions of print books maintained in the collections of these libraries. Although most of the books Google scanned were out of print, the majority were still protected by copyright. However, each of the books protected by copyright and scanned by Google were only displayed via three snippet views as a result of a Google books search. Each snippet view also referred researchers to potential sellers of the books, such as Amazon.com. Google additionally created several limitations for each snippet view. Some of these limitations included only displaying one snippet view per page, no more than three snippet views were accessible regardless of how many times a user searched for a book, and at least one out of every ten pages of a book was redacted.

The Authors Guild objected to the scanning of the books in these various collections and sued Google alleging that Google committed copyright infringement by scanning the books, giving digital copies to the participating libraries (each partner library received a digital copy of each of their own books that was scanned), and by displaying portions of books via search engine results. The district court held that such scanning was not copyright infringement, served a social utility, and was instead fair use. This case is now on appeal.

In retrospect, some interesting insights manifested from this case. One of these interesting insights discussed at the Ball State Copyright Conference I attended last week was that the district court ruled in favor of fair use because Google used the copyrighted materials for a transformative purpose (for a purpose separate from the original creators’ purpose). The authors and publishers created these works to distribute information and to make money, whereas, Google used the works to create a searchable index and a location tool, which offered a new social value. Further, this transformative use created a transformative market, so it did not directly compete with the market served by the original creation. The court further noted that Google was really not directly benefiting monetarily from this transformative use. More importantly, this case and other recent cases indicated that when a court deemed a use of a copyrighted work as being transformative, the other three factors seemed to fall by the wayside. Why? The transformative purpose meets the first factor of fair use (purpose of use). Additionally, the transformative purpose creates a transformative market, thus the use complies with the fourth factor of fair use (the effect on the original market) and the transformative use does not directly compete with the original market; and the transformative use usually assuages any negative manifested issues in regard to how much of a work is used (the third factor), because the transformative nature of the use nullifies any lengthy use of the original item.

In sum, when a copyrighted item is used in a genuinely transformative manner, the judicial branch is consistently changing the way it analyzes fair use. The more transformative a use, the more the concerns with commercial effect and how much of an item is used becomes less important. Therefore, this is a reminder, that for now, fair use and transformative use is a fruitful tool for libraries to utilize when using copyrighted items. Although Congress is currently reviewing the modern Copyright Act, and it may issue a proposed new Act in one of the next sessions, the Judicial Branch’s current interpretation of fair use is greatly benefiting libraries in America. Therefore, it might not be a bad result for libraries if Congress leaves the current Copyright Act as-is. 

Book Delivery Service for Faculty

There is a new Book Delivery Service for Faculty!

The Access Services Department will deliver library books to your main department office.  Deliveries are made on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  Book requests may be made through your ILLiad account .

Contact Access Services at 940-565-2413, e-mail us for more information, or visit the Faculty Delivery Service page.