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Grant Enables Rutgers Project to Put Historic Newspapers Online

Project Uploaded 100,000+ Pages of NJ Newspapers, Including Perth Amboy's
Perth Amboy Evening News
The Perth Amboy Evening News is one of three newspapers that are being digitized by the NJ Digital Newspaper Project. Chronicling America

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—A project to put historical New Jersey local newspapers online recently received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

New Jersey Digital Newspaper Project (NJDNP), a collaboration between Rutgers, the New Jersey State Archives, and the New Jersey State Library, will use the $219,609 grant to digitize late 19th century and early 20th century records of three newspapers: Bridgeton Pioneer, Jersey City News, and Perth Amboy Evening News.

This is the second round of funding for the program from the Endowment. The first grant, given in August 2016, was worth $186,206.

“This grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities means that we will be able to continue contributing [newspapers] to the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America website,” said Caryn Radick, who has been the project director since the first grant in August 2016.

Radick and her team get their material from reels of microfilm collected and stored by the New Jersey State Archive.

According to Gregory Gill, an archivist who works with the NJDNP, the reels are kept “in a climate controlled microfilm storage vault in Ewing Township,” where “hundreds of New Jersey newspaper titles are stored on thousands of reels of microfilm.”

An archivist like Gill retrieves a roll of microfilm from the vaults and sends it off to New Brunswick where NJDNP staff check the reel for quality at Rutgers’ Alexander Library. After that, the staff send it off to third parties to digitize the reel’s contents.

With that process, NJDNP has digitized around 100,000 pages of historical New Jersey newspapers since 2015. More than 50,000 of those pages are available on the Chronicling America website with more to come.

The NJDNP is the New Jersey branch of the National Digital Newspaper Project (NDNP), which is an initiative to digitize historical newspapers nationwide that began in the mid-2000's.

NDNP is a partnership with the National Endowment Fund, and NJDNP project is entirely funded by grants from the Endowment.

“If we had not received funding, we would no longer be able to contribute digitized newspapers to Chronicling America,” Radick said.

One of the newspapers the project is digitizing was based in the Middlesex County city of Perth Amboy. The Perth Amboy Evening News circulated from 1903 to 1959.

In a congratulatory letter to NJDNP, New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. wrote that he was “proud that the Perth Amboy Evening News is [one of] the first newspaper[s] available through this invaluable project."

“Here in New Jersey we have a rich history and innumerable contributions in science, innovation, politics and the humanities. The digitization of these newspapers will provide user-friendly access of these historical records to all individuals across the globe,” Pallone continued.

Those interested can read issues of the Perth Amboy Evening News and follow reporting on historic events.

“One of the hazards of working on this project is wanting to stop to read all the stories as they’re endlessly fascinating,” Radick said in an email.

Radick herself recommends a weeklong tale of burglary, intrigue, and ghosts.

Curious readers can also find reportage on more famous stories, like the April 15, 1912 article on the fate of the Titanic. The headline reads “TITANIC, LARGEST STEAMBOAT AFLOAT, NEARLY SUNK BY ICEBERG ON 1ST VOYAGE.”

Those confused by the “NEARLY” didn’t read the headline wrong--the Perth Amboy Evening News mistakenly reported that the Titanic hadn’t sunk. The newspaper corrected it the next day in its coverage of the disaster’s aftermath. Readers shouldn’t be too hard on the publication, though: many papers across America also made this mistake.

Ultimately, the NJDNP intends to digitize as many papers as possible, and Gill is confident that the project will continue.

“In my opinion, the trend seems to be for more digitization of newspapers,” Gill said. “It allows greater access to the rich sources of history and culture found in New Jersey newspapers.”

Editor's Note: The editor of this newspaper, Charlie Kratovil, serves on the advisory board for the NJ