Global Impact

With NEH grant, libraries preserve pages of the past

Tampa wallowed beneath three feet of water. Jacksonville was buffeted by 60 mile-per-hour winds. Snapped power lines sparked fires in St. Augustine, and Orlando went dark as power plants failed, pummeled by a Category 3 hurricane. Nearly 100 years after that storm, we can still trace its impact from the headlines of newspapers digitized by the University of Florida libraries.

UF’s George A. Smathers Libraries recently received $310,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to make pages from historic newspapers from Florida and Puerto Rico available digitally. The grant supplements earlier awards of $288,000 in 2015 and $325,000 in 2013 for a total award $923,000, the single largest direct award ever received by the Libraries.  

The funds will be used to digitize more than 100,000 additional pages as part of the Florida and Puerto Rico Digital Newspaper Project, a collaboration between UF and the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras. By the project's conclusion, it aims to provide free online access to more than 300,000 pages dating from 1690 to 1963.

In addition to the 1921 storm – which struck before the advent of today’s storm-naming convention – the newspapers detail other natural disasters, such as the freezes that swept Florida in 1894 and 1895. They follow the rise and fall of railroads and steamboats, citrus and cattle, sugar cane and phosphate. They trace the impact of the Civil, Seminole and World Wars. And now they will be available worldwide.

“Because these pages are not just on microfilm anymore, it completely changes the access. Anybody with an Internet connection can see them,” said project director Patrick Reakes, the libraries’ associate dean of scholarly resources and services. “It’s also a more sustainable way to preserve them. Microfilm gets old and brittle and hard to read. Once these pages are digitized, they’re safe. They’ll still be readable in the future.”

The digitized papers are available through the Library of Congress Chronicling America, the University of Florida Libraries Florida Digital Newspaper Library and the Biblioteca Digital Puertorriqueña at the University of Puerto Rico.  


Alisson Clark Author
August 3, 2017