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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

African American Studies 495: Senior Thesis Seminar

A course guide.

1. Digitized Historical Newspapers

In this section we describe the most important collections of digitized, historical newspapers for African American studies. For the most complete and up-to-date information on African American newspapers, consult our guide to Finding and Using African American Newspapers. For more information on other digitized historical newspapers, see our Guide to Online Historical Newspapers.

ProQuest Historical Black Newspapers. A collection of the major, 20th century African American newspapers, with coverage back to the earliest available issue for each title. Click here to see a list of newspapers in ProQuest Historical Black Newspapers.

African American Newspapers, 1827-1998. Almost 300 newspapers from more than 35 different states. Click here to see a list of the newspapers in African American Newspapers, 1827-1998.

African American Newspapers: the 19th Century. 7 important black newspapers of the 19th century: Freedom's Journal, North Star, Frederick Douglass' Paper, Christian Recorder, Colored American/Weekly AdvocateNational Era, and Provincial Freeman.

A Directory of Digitized African American Newspapers at the University of Illinois.

2. Searching Historical Newspapers

Like any other primary source, historical newspapers embody the values, perspectives, and purposes of their producers.  They are subject to economic, social, and political influences, some of which can be identified, while others remain obscure.  Always ask yourself these key questions:

1.  Who was involved in the production of this newspaper?

2.  Does this newspaper have an identifiable political or socio-economic orientation or affiliation?

3.  Who was the target audience?

When you find specific articles in a newspaper that address your topic, ask yourself:

1.  What is the context for this article?  Was it written to convey information about an event or to contribute to a discussion of a controversial issue? 

2.  What aspects of the story are emphasized in the article?

3.  What doesn't the article tell you about the story?

4.  How is the article placed in the issue and on the page?

5.  Is there related material in the same issue?

6.  What language was used to describe the topic?

For purposes of conducting research, there is one key difference between using a digitized historical newspaper and using a newspaper in hard copy or on microfilm.  The sole access point for non-digital newspapers is date.  For digitized newspapers, you can search by keyword and/or date. In other words, for original print newspapers or newspapers on microfilm, there is no subject access: no index, no keyword search, no means of searching directly by subject.

When using digitized historical newspapers, remember that searching on keywords means using the exact language that was used by the author(s) of the article at the time the newspaper was published.  You must be careful to use the terminology of the historical period.  This may include language that we would consider objectionable today.

As you find some articles on your topic, note what other terms were used and try searching again with those terms.

3. Current Newspapers

Use these sources to access content from the past 5 to 10 years, unless otherwise noted. For much more visit our Current Newspapers Page.