Project Description: Traveling Texts

German-language newspapers flourished during the era of transatlantic mass migration in the long nineteenth century, when approximately six million German-speaking people migrated to North America. As early as 1732, Benjamin Franklin published the first German-language newspaper: Die Philadelphische Zeitung. However, the news organ folded after only a few issues. A century later, transatlantic mass migration, technical innovations in print, weak copyright restrictions, increasing literacy rates and the growing interest of the public in news of a secular, sensational and political nature resulted in the widespread sharing and duplication of information. These changes had a tremendous impact on the German-language press in the U.S. By 1890, German-speaking migrants had published up to 1,000 newspapers across the United States, turning the German immigrant newspaper into the most widely read and influential non-English newspaper. Large and small papers alike found a home in the United States, including the Westliche Post in St. Louis, Missouri, which promoted Joseph Pulitzer, a rising figure on the journalistic scene.

Due to insufficient copyright legislation and enforcements, technical innovations in steamship, telegraph systems, and print technology, texts could travel from venue to venue as editors borrowed, selected, copied, and modified news content and reprinted it. Editors published more than events, statistics, or announcements. “Traveling Texts in German-American Newspapers” is a collection of reprinted texts – from hard news to short stories – in the German-American press, an outcome of “Text Mining America’s German-Language Newspapers, 1830–1914: Processing Ger(wo)manness,” a research project at the German Historical Institute by Jana Keck which developed out of a larger international computational periodical research project, Oceanic Exchanges: Tracing Global Information Networks in Historic Newspaper Repositories, 1840–1914. Using digitized German-language newspapers from the Chronicling America database, the project deploys methods from Natural Language Processing (NLP) to identify, extract, and cluster reprinted material and to automatically classify texts into newspaper genres such as hard news, ads, lists, or poems. Given the newspaper’s seriality, abundance, and heterogeneity, this project collection allows scholars to study texts previously hidden in different physical archives and to link newspapers to other socio-historical material collected in “Mobile Lifeworlds in German-American Letters” and “Writing Across Borders: Diaries and Journals.”

The project “Text Mining America’s German-Language Newspapers, 1830-1914: Processing Ger(wo)manness” was awarded with the first “Peter Haber Preis für Digitale Geschichtswissenschaft” as part of the 53. Deutscher Historikertag (2021). For a detailed project description, see the article “Let’s Talk Data, Bias, and Menstrual Cramps: Voicing Gerwomanness in the nineteenth century and today” (2021) in the Bulletin of the German Historical Institute.