Ethnic American Newspapers from the Balch Collection, 1799-1971

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    Ethnic American Newspapers from the Balch Collection, features more than 130 fully searchable newspapers in 10 languages from 25 states.  It provides newspapers on American of Czech, French, German, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Jewish, Lithuanian, Polish, Slovak and Welsh descent.

    May 17, 2024 7:37pm
    Resource Types
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    Collection Content

    Ethnic American Newspapers from the Balch Collection, 1799-1971 is part of the Readex American Ethnic Newspapers series. The source is the former Balch Institute of Ethnic Studies, now merged witht he Historical Society of Pennsylvania. This particular historical news database, according to the publisher, will feature more than 130 fully searchable newspapers in 10 languages from 25 states. It provides newspapers about and by Americans of Czech, French, German, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Jewish, Lithuanian, Polish, Slovak and Welsh descent.

    At the time of review, the product was incomplete, with approximately 40% of the titles loaded into production. Assessment of content is therefore drawn partially from the product list of forthcoming titles

    The Balch Collection contains numerous important ethnic American titles such as the Courrier des Etats-Unis (New York, 1849-1891), the most significant French-language newspaper in the U.S.; and New Yorker Volkszeitung (1894-1932), a German-language labor daily established by the Socialist Labor Party of America. These, along with other anchors such as Progresso Italo-Americano, Irish American Weekly, and the Polish-American Czas (all published in New York), as well as Amerikansky Russky Viestnik (Pennsylvania), help constitute an important aggregation of immigrant and ethnic newspapers. The collection also provides access to several Jewish American titles, including the weekly Jewish Messenger (New York), Jewish Chronicle (Newark), and Jewish Journal (New Brunswick).  

    Beyond the well-known titles, the Balch Collection  also contains numerous publications that present opportunities for research into regional ethnic communities. These include titles such as the Alabama Staats-ZeitungPokrok and Dennice Novoveku, a Czech weekly published in Chicago and Cleveland; Corriere del Popolo, an Italian-language newspaper from San Francisco, CA; and Druid, an English-language Welsh title published in Pittsburgh and Scranton, PA. 

    Added to the mix of titles are several political and labor publications, which might otherwise be overlooked in a collection labeled "Ethnic American." These include the National Labor Tribune (dedicated to labor issues in the iron and steel industry), the Socialist Call (publication of the Socialist Party of America), and The People (official organ of the Socialist Labor Party). 

    Finally, the module intends to include a small but intriguing collection of Japanese-American titles published through the War Relocation Authority in various internment camps during the period 1942-1945.  

    The Balch Collection is focused predominantly on ethnicities of European origin. It is weighted heavily toward German-language publications (approximately 50 titles), with Jewish, Italian, French, and Irish publications each running a distant second. East European communities (Czech, Polish, Slovak, and others) are not covered as extensively, while other prominent immigrant communities in the United States (in particular Scandinavian, Hispanic, and Asian) are absent from the collection. 

    Though the product claims widespread coverage of ethnic group newspapers in the United States, its strength lies in the communities of the East Coast, particularly New York and Pennsylvania. Moderate coverage of New Jersey, Ohio, and (to a lesser extent) Illinois reinforce the regional emphasis. The remainder of states covered contain only representative titles, often in short or scattered runs. A handful of titles in the collection appear to be general regional papers, containing no distinctive "ethnic" characteristics discernible to the reviewer.


    This database shares a common interface with all of the series consituting Readex’s America's Historical Newspapers products (20th-Century American Newspapers, Series 1 to 3, 1923- ; American Ethnic Newspapers; Early American Newspapers). The platform offers a variety of advanced search features, such as:

    • Searching one, all, or selected newspaper titles (across the full American Ethnic Newspapers series)
    • Limiting by specific date ranges
    • Searching specific “article types” (News/Opinion, Letters, Advertisements, Matrimony and Death Notices, etc.)
    • Narrowing by place of publication (state, city)
    • Full-text search, or headline only

    Readex notes that most articles have been assigned one ("and only one") article type, but some articles that do not fit the defined types may have no assigned type.

    Browsing interfaces are made somewhat user friendly by inclusion of prompts like descriptions of selected historical eras to cue date range searches, and a map of the U.S. as an option for selecting place of publication searches.

    Search results are returned in a list that includes information such as title, publication date, page number, article type, article headline, and more. Results also show the relevant segment of text in an image preview; users may view the image of the entire article or full page, showing the results. Hit terms are highlighted within the viewed article (but not within the full page). Users may browse the entire newspaper issue by moving forward or backward through pages of an issue.

    Users may open images as a dynamically-generated PDF (which lacks the full-text OCR behind the image)and may download selected pages, articles, or full issues.

    A variety of other functions are available, such as article bookmarking, citation export, and emailing links to articles.

    Strengths and Weaknesses

    Though product information indicates that content represents as many as ten languages (including Czech, Japanese, and Hebrew), the database currently allows limiting searches by only three languages: English, French, and German. This is likely due to the nature of the titles currently loaded into the platform (production is ongoing). It remains to be seen how Readex will facilitate searching in non-Latin scripts such as Japanese and Hebrew. 

    The Readex platform does not contain a mechanism to limit searches by ethnic community. As a result, it is difficult for users to restrict searches to the titles for a particular ethnic grouping (Jewish titles, for example, which may publish in English, Yiddish, Hebrew, and/or German).

    In general, the collection contains many titles of potential interest to the research community. However, perhaps reflecting the nature of the collection originally assembled by the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, there seems to be little coherence to the collection in terms of time period, geographic coverage, or ethnicity. Moreover, while some titles contain full runs of the publication, many others appear to be partial or scattered holdings (for example, the Philadelphia Demokrat, an early German publication, was published from 1838 through 1918. However, the Balch Collection will only present one year--1907--of the publication). Attempts to fill in complete coverage of titles would strengthen the database's overall appeal.




    James Simon, CRL

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