[NOTE: With the new school year upon us, I thought I would offer a post in the “In Pursuit of Dead Georgians” series that is a bit different. This one is for my fellow teachers of American and Georgia history out there (high school and college) who are looking for primary sources about antebellum Georgia online to supplement their textbooks, as well as for “history buffs” who can’t get enough of first-hand sources that are free.]
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When I was in grad school, researching Georgia history between the American Revolution and the early nineteenth century, I relied on Georgia newspapers as key sources. After all, the state’s legislative records were incomplete and there weren’t very many large manuscript collections from significant Georgia movers and shakers. Call it the “Gone With the Wind” effect: “The War” destroyed efforts to preserve Georgia’s historical memory, and the situation was further complicated by a combination of natural disasters and archival inertia.
Fortunately, My Old Graduate School (Emory University) had in its research library a number of Georgia newspapers, in either hard copy or microfilm, that, when supplemented by newspaper collections at the Georgia Archives, the Georgia Historical Society in Savannah, and the Library of Congress, carried me through my dissertation research. The strength of Emory’s holdings in antebellum Georgia history was probably owing to “suggestions” from my major professor, Dr. James Z. Rabun, who had been engaged for years on a joint biography of three important antebellum Georgia politicians, Howell Cobb, Alexander Stephens, and Robert Toombs.
Years later, when I began research on what would become my second book, the sequel to the book version of my doctoral dissertation, I noticed that, thanks to the Internet, the number of relevant newspaper and governmental sources readily available to students of Georgia’s antebellum history had grown significantly. So, for the next, oh, twenty years or so, I spent lots of time at the computer tracking down Georgia newspapers, Congressional documents, manuscript collections, and other helpful sources online.
Many antebellum Georgia newspapers are conveniently available today through the “Digital Library of Georgia,” (DLG) part of the University of Georgia’s splendid “Galileo” website. You may log into the site using a password obtained from your local public library, or simply log into “Galileo” as a “guest.” To view the newspapers available through the DLG, you need a plug-in called DejaVu. If you don’t currently have that item installed, there is a link at the site that will allow you to download a free version.
Information found at the DLG may be supplemented by congressional speeches by Georgians, thanks to the Library of Congress’s wonderful “American Memory” site, and by letters in some presidential papers collections also available through that website. Finally, I have added sites dedicated to several “national” publications that include information on antebellum Georgia, most of them courtesy of Professor Michael Gagnon, Georgia Gwinnett College. I thank Professor Gagnon for his willingness to share these resources.
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In 2015, we seem to be looking at the eventual demise of the “hard copy” of the daily local newspaper, but, for those interested in the history of antebellum America, newspapers remain an important resource. And, for anyone studying Georgia history, these online sources are absolutely essential. Let me suggest several possible avenues of approach to these sources that might work with high school or college students:
- The most obvious is simply to allow your students to become familiar with the layout of antebellum newspapers–usually four pages, with the “guts” of each issue on pages 2-3. Discuss differences between straight “news stories,” editorials, and pseudonymous essays. (NOTE: The pseudonymous essays seem to me to be equivalents of either “op-eds” or “blogs” before those terms were cool.)
- Make the leap from the weekly news coverage in antebellum America to today’s 24/7 information overload. What are the advantages/disadvantages of each type of coverage of “current events”? Just because we have more information available today, does that mean that we are better informed than folks living in the first half of the nineteenth century?
- Pick a generalization from your textbook (e.g., the impact of debates over the Missouri Compromise on the public discussion in the South of slavery; Nat Turner’s Revolt; or the annexation of Texas) and have students study how one or more of those issues were covered by Georgia’s antebellum press. Does contemporary newspaper coverage square with the textbook treatment of the topic, or is it more complicated?
- In trying to make sense of antebellum political parties, have your students look at different papers in the same town (e.g., Savannah, Milledgeville, or Athens). Can they determine which paper supported which political party, how, and why? Once again, does their understanding of these parties and their principles derived from newspapers line up with the descriptions of antebellum parties in textbooks, or is it not nearly so cut and dried?
- You might also focus on a single newspaper over a longer period of time. What can your students learn about the nature of antebellum Georgia journalism; about the editor(s) of the paper; or about the evolution of that paper’s political stance? Several really good examples for this assignment include the Southern Banner in Athens, which made the transition from a Troup party paper to a Democratic one in a surprisingly short time; the Macon Telegraph, which remained loyal to the Clark party and the Democrats; and the Columbus Enquirer, which, despite numerous financial and personnel problems, followed a fairly straight course from the Crawford/Troup party to the Whigs.
- Another interesting exercise is to compare and contrast the editorial position of a particular Georgia newspaper on a single issue with speeches by that party’s congressmen in Washington. Try, for instance, to have your students discuss the audience for each form of communication. Does that audience make a difference?
Please let me know if you decide to include at least some of these primary sources in your courses this year, and, if so, how the assignments turned out.
Georgia Historical Newspapers:
Digital Library of Georgia
1. Athens Historic Newspapers Archive, 1827-1928 [I list only antebellum papers here]:
Southern Banner, 1832-1882
Southern Watchman, 1855-1882
Southern Whig/Southern Herald, 1838-1850
2. Atlanta Historic Newspapers Archive, 1847-1922 [I list only antebellum papers here]:
Atlanta Daily Examiner, 1857
Atlanta Intelligencer, 1851, 1854-1871
Gate City Guardian, 1861
Georgia Literary and Temperance Crusader, 1860-1861
Southern Confederacy, 1861-1864
Southern Miscellany, and Upper Georgia Whig, 1847
3. Columbus Enquirer: Georgia Historic Newspapers, 1828-1890:
4. Cherokee Phoenix, 1828-1834:
5. Macon Telegraph: Georgia Historic Newspapers, 1826-1908:
6. Milledgeville Historic Newspapers Archive, 1808-1920 [I list only antebellum papers here]:
Federal Union, 1830-1872
Georgia Argus, 1810, 1812, 1815
Georgia Journal, 1809-1845
Milledgeville Intelligencer, 1808
Southern Recorder, 1820-1872
Standard of Union, 1836, 1837, 1839, 1840, 1841
7. Savannah Historic Newspapers Archives, 1809-1880 [I list only antebellum papers here]:
Daily Georgian, 1835-1847
Daily Morning News, 1850-1864
Daily Republican, 1839-1840
Daily Savannah Republican, 1829-1839
Georgian, 1819-1823, 1829-1835
Republican and Savannah Evening Ledger, 1809-1816
Savannah Daily Georgian, 1853-1856
Savannah Daily Republican, 1818-1824, 1840-1852, 1855-1858,
Savannah Georgian, 1825-1829, 1847-1849
Savannah Georgian and Journal, 1856
Savannah Republican, 1816-1818, 1824-1828, 1853-1855, 1858-1865
Weekly Georgian, 1839-1841
8. South Georgia Historic Newspapers Archive, 1845-1922 [only one of the papers in this collection was published before the Civil War]:
Albany Patriot, 1845-1866
9. Library of Congress–American Memory site:
The Annals of Congress (1789-1824)–Covering the 1st Congress through the first session of the 18th Congress. According to the website, these proceedings “were not published contemporaneously, but were compiled between 1834 and 1856, using the best records available, primarily newspaper accounts. Speeches are paraphrased rather than presented verbatim, but the record of debates is nonetheless fuller than that available from the House and Senate Journals.”
Register of Debates (1824-1837)–covers 2nd Session, 18th Congress through 1st Session, 25th Congress. According to the web site, “The Register of Debates is not a verbatim account of the proceedings, but rather a summary of the ‘leading debates and incidents” of the period. It was published contemporaneously with the proceedings by a commercial printer, Gales and Seaton.”
Congressional Globe (1833-1873)–covers 23rd-42nd Congresses. According to the web site, “The first five volumes of the Globe (23rd Congress, 1st Session through 25th Congress, 1st Session, 1833-1837) overlap with the Register of Debates. Initially the Globe contained a “condensed report” or abstract rather than a verbatim report of the debates and proceedings. With the 32nd Congress (1851), however, the Globe began to provide something approaching verbatim transcription.”
10. “National Publications” that include information on Georgia:
National Intelligencer–http://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/13227 (1805-1814) . (Courtesy, Professor Michael Gagnon, Georgia Gwinnett College).
Niles’ Register–http://earlyushistory.net/niles-register/ (1812-1849). (Courtesy, Professor Michael Gagnon, Georgia Gwinnett College).
American Annual Register–http://earlyushistory.net/american-annual-register/ (1827-1835). (Courtesy, Professor Michael Gagnon, Georgia Gwinnett College)
11. Georgia Census Population Schedules, 1820-1930–http://earlyushistory.net/census-documents/georgia-population-schedules-manuscript-censuses/ (Courtesy, Professor Michael Gagnon, Georgia Gwinnett College).
[NOTE: As a shortcut to the various items from Professor Gagnon included in numbers 10 and 11 above, you might wish to see an article about him and his research in a local online newspaper: http://www.gwinnettforum.com/2015/05/15-14-family-history-grad/]
For those interested in reading more about Georgia History, here are links to my books on the subject:
Politics on the Periphery: Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)