The Nineteenth Century in Print: The Making of America in Books and Periodicals

About the Collection

The Nineteenth Century in Print: The Making of America in Books and Periodicals represents a special collaboration among the Library of Congress and the libraries of the University of Michigan and Cornell University to make accessible a wide-ranging digital library of nineteenth-century American printed materials. It will comprise primary documents of American history reflecting the broad domains of social and political history, education, psychology, sociology, religion, and science and technology as they developed throughout the antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction eras (1850-77). The collection also has special riches to offer readers interested in such areas as the nation's westward expansion, its poetry, the growth of professional forestry and landscape design, or Americans' abiding fascination with self-improvement. In the words of Wendy Lougee, assistant director of the University of Michigan Library, such thematic breadth makes it possible "to trace the evolution of ideas and customs that shaped American culture."

The collection's foundation will be resources digitized as part of the first Making of America project (MOA), a collaboration between the libraries of the University of Michigan and Cornell University funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The project had several goals. One was creating digital reproductions of historical source materials while preserving and enhancing access to books and journals too fragile to withstand repeated handling. Another goal was to develop models for a large-scale, integrated, and distributed digital library involving multiple institutions. During the first project, the University of Michigan digitized over 1500 books and 50,000 journal articles from 10 periodicals, while Cornell digitized 267 books and over 100,000 articles from 22 periodicals. The two institutions collaborated in the selection of materials and employed the same specifications for scanning from original paper sources and the same scanning contractor. Both have relied primarily on uncorrected optical character recognition (OCR) to support searching of the full text; automated OCR is considerably less expensive than manual transcription and offers great potential for cost-effective access to printed textual materials from this period and later. Since the accuracy of OCR increases with uniformity of typeface and paper surface, its performance on earlier materials may be less satisfactory.

The Library of Congress has joined this collaboration, following the same general approach for the periodical Garden and Forest: A Journal of Horticulture, Landscape Art, and Forestry. This periodical was selected for the first digitization project by the Library's Preservation Reformatting Division. Garden and Forest represents the Library's first experiment with optical character recognition. Other textual materials in American Memory are either presented only as page images or have been transcribed manually.

The Nineteenth Century in Print will be released in phases. The collection was first released in early 2000, with the books from the University of Michigan and Garden and Forest from the Library of Congress. In September 2000, twenty-two periodicals digitized by Cornell University were added. Later phases will incorporate more materials from the collaborating institutions and demonstrate a fuller level of interoperability. The collection is divided into two components, books and periodicals, each with its own home page linking from the main collection home page and search and browse access. For the books, readers can search bibliographic records or browse lists of authors, titles, or topical subjects. For the periodicals, they can browse by volume and issue or search the full text of each publication. Readers will probably choose to access the materials as page images, although they can also view uncorrected text and download higher-resolution images of individual pages for convenient printing.

The University of Michigan and Cornell University provide access to all the books and periodicals digitized by their libraries as part of the first Making of America project. The full text of all resources can be searched at these sites.

Return to The Nineteenth Century in Print: The Making of America in Books and Periodicals