Preserving W.Va. History

We at The Intelligencer were pleased and proud to learn last week that our newspaper had been termed the most significant one in West Virginia during the 1800s. As we proclaim every day at the top of page one, The Intelligencer has played an important role in our state, beginning even before it was created.

But we are even more delighted at the context of the special designation given The Intelligencer by the West Virginia Regional History Center.

For the past few years, a program to convert old Mountain State newspapers into digital format has been in progress. Decisions had to be made on what publications should be given priority in the project. Officials at the center came to the conclusion The Intelligencer was the state’s “most significant” paper during the 1800s. That choice was made in part because of our pro-statehood, anti-slavery stances during the late 1850s and 1860s.

Of course, we were delighted at the decision to focus on digitizing editions of The Intelligencer from Aug. 24, 1852 through Dec. 31, 1898. Nearly 12,000 editions of the paper now are available online at the Chronicling America website.

Even more pleasing is the project itself. It is the West Virginia University Libraries’ contribution to the National Digital Newspaper Program. It began in 2011, when the West Virginia and Regional History Center received a $266,000 grant for the work from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In a comparatively short amount of time – and with impressive efficiency and economy – an enormous treasure-trove of history has been preserved and made available to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. Also impressive is that the digital newspaper editions are searchable, meaning that a researcher can type in a word, perhaps a name, and find every instance of it in the document being examined. That will be very valuable to everyone from general historians down to those looking into their family histories.

There is more to come. Work now is in progress to digitize editions of several other West Virginia newspapers from the 1800s.

It is difficult to overestimate the value of the project. Again, it is making newspapers published during an important period of time in our state’s history available to virtually anyone who wants to look at and search easily through them. And the project is being undertaken swiftly and economically. Those responsible, including the WVU Libraries, deserve high praise for the work.