Source Report on The Civil War: A Newspaper Perspective

Source Report on The Civil War: A Newspaper Perspective

Alex von Gerichten


What is it? Describe its form and contents.

The Civil War: a Newspaper Perspective is a large collection of newspaper articles and illustrations from the Civil War compiled on a CD-ROM. Both Confederate (The Charleston Mercury and The Richmond Enquirer) and Union (The New York Herald) newspapers make-up the collection's primary sources. Numerically, the collection consists of 11,000 newspaper articles and 700 images of battlefield maps and illustrations from over 2,500 issues of newspapers published between 1 November 1860 and 30 April 1865.

When was it made? By whom? Why?

The CD-ROM was made by "Accessible Archives" in 1994. The introductory section of the CD-ROM explains that the database was created to provide academics with a "new and exciting way to research and learn about America during the Civil War period." Judging by the fact that the collection is contained on a CD-ROM and the company's name, it was most likely created in an effort to compile such a large volume of primary documents in one easily searchable and accessible source.

Who appears in it?

A wide variety of people that lived during the Civil War era are represented in the collection, as to be expected. Being that the collection consists of newspaper articles, famous figures of the Civil War are featured prominently. For example, searching Abraham Lincoln's name in the search tool produces 1,564 results. Aside from the famous historical figures, the collection also features soldiers, African-Americans, women, et cetera. Many of these people appear in reference to their involvement or relation to the War. Interestingly, the newspaper articles in the collection also portray Americans on the "home front," revealing sporting activities and social life at the time.

How is it organized?

The collection is organized digitally on the CD-ROM. Opening the program, the user is presented with an introduction to the collection followed by all of the documents in chronological order. This is rather overwhelming and seemingly unorganized. The organizational limitation stems from the fact that the collection represents early technology.  However, the user may search and find articles relatively easy. As explained in the introductory section, the user can search any of the full-text newspaper articles through a search tool, entering as few as one word. In addition to searching the articles using words, the user can opt to find articles through a topical index. The headings in the database's topical index includes: maps, editorials, illustrations, advertisements, African Americans, women, and "The Situation." The material found in many of these headings is self-evident. However, some require further explanation. For example, the category, "the situation," contains all of the articles in a column of the same name in the New York Herald, which provided a summary of the preceding day's events. When selecting one of these headings, a new window containing all of the articles relating to the subject opens. The articles themselves are meant to represent the original documents as closely as possible. There is some bibliographical information at the beginning of each entry, including the date of publication and the newspaper of publication.

How do you use it? Does it have finding aids or supplemental material?

Clearly, a computer is needed to access the database. As found on the Bowdoin Library's web site, there are certain system requirements necessary for use: "IBM-PC compatible 286-12 mhz or higher; 640K RAM; MS-DOS 3.2 or higher; hard disk with 0.5 Mb available; EGA or VGA video display; HP series II compatible laser printer, with 1.5 Mb memory; CD-ROM reader, Microsoft DOS Extensions; mouse (optional)." The specifics for using the program are detailed in the question above. The software is easy to use, and includes instructions throughout use as well as a help section. Supplemental material should have accompanied the CD-ROM; however, they are missing from Bowdoin's copy. There should have been three sheets of instructions intended to help the user navigate the CD-ROM.

How do you get access to it? Where is it physically located, and what strictures (if any) are placed on access?

The collection is located in the reserve section at H-L. Therefore, a student must check-out the CD-ROM from the circulation desk on the first floor. This reserve is not limited to in-house use only, it is possible to take the CD-ROM out of the library. Of note, when trying to obtain the collection, the librarians were unable to find the CD-ROM for quite some time because the case was not clearly marked.

What kinds of questions can it answer?

The collection of newspaper articles from the New York Daily Herald, Charleston Mercury, and Richmond Enquirer during the Civil War can answer numerous questions. On the surface, the collection can answer questions regarding the occurrence of events throughout the Civil War. However, the articles contain inherent points of view and perspective. Since the collection contains articles from both Union and Confederate newspapers, it would be most useful in examining the two sides' perspective of the events of the war, noting where they differ and are similar. There are many other answers that the documents can answer; these are just a few notable ones.