Bentley Historical Library reveals 125 years of digitized Daily archives

Bentley Historical Library Director Terrence J. McDonald discusses the importance of University history at the unveiling of the Michigan Daily archive in the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library on Thursday.

Bentley Historical Library Director Terrence J. McDonald discusses the importance of University history at the unveiling of the Michigan Daily archive in the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library on Thursday. Buy this photo
Emma Richter/Daily
Thursday, March 30, 2017 - 9:05pm

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Twelve decades of student reporting, 316 volumes of breaking coverage and 200,000 pages of University of Michigan news were revealed Thursday night as the Bentley Historical Library unveiled 125 years’ worth of digitized archives of The Michigan Daily.

The Daily has been a facet on campus since 1890 and has covered both national and local issues such as politics, social movements, higher education and changing demographics of the University.

The event was attended by student journalists, alumni and prominent University leaders — including University President Mark Schlissel and James and Anne Duderstadt, former University president and vice president, respectively. Prior to the digitization, previous issues of the Daily could only be viewed in person at the Bentley or at the Student Publications Building, where only bound paper copies are available.

Now, however, the new database, consisting of digital preservation and online infrastructure of the Daily from 1890 to 2014, eliminates the need to view physical copies and makes all the Daily’s content searchable and browsable for alumni, researchers and historians alike.

The financial support of the Kemp Family Foundation is largely responsible for the digitization.

John B. Kemp, who attended the University as both an undergraduate and law student in the ’60s, has vast familial roots at the University and wanted to be able to view his time at the University through digital records of the Daily.

The Bentley has archived similarly pertinent materials, particularly historical documents, student records, maps and University intercollegiate athletics documentation.

Terrence McDonald, director of the Bentley, spoke to nearly 100 attendees at the Gerald R. Ford Library on Thursday about the significance of the digital documentation of the Daily.

In an interview beforehand, McDonald said the digitization project involved partnerships across multiple units at the University, including the Bentley, the IT department of the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library and the Student Publications. The resulted is an archive that holds huge implications for future understanding of the University.

“A great university, to stay great, has to maintain a high level of historical consciousness,” McDonald said. “We have a great history; certain members of our community know about that history, but the world beyond that needs to know more about that.”

Though the project was completed last October, the data was originally only released to faculty and students involved in bicentennial-themed courses last December.

“The idea of digitizing the Daily was, to begin with, a way of getting the story out; that is, the digital initiative of the Daily is already crafting more scholarship on the history of the University of Michigan in the last three months with its very limited release than we’ve produced than in the previous multiple years,” he said.

McDonald, who has 27 students in his bicentennial-themed course “22 Ways to Think about the History of The University of Michigan,” said his students have already made great use of the archives in their research.

“The Daily, because of its editorial independence, its daily publication and its journalistic ambition — it’s just a phenomenal newspaper of record of the history of the University,” McDonald said.

At the release, McDonald introduced Kemp, who spoke about the significance of the archives with regard to his extensive family background with the University and the memorializing of students’ time.

“It’ll allow a lot of people that had great memories at Michigan to be able to have tangible evidence of that by getting a Michigan Daily article about it,” Kemp said. “Once you get to Michigan, you build memories that will last you a lifetime, you make friends that will last you a lifetime.”

Kemp spoke of his foundation’s generosity for the program as a form of repayment for what the University has given his family.

“For four generations, our family members have received the many benefits of being University of Michigan people,” Kemp said. “I really don’t want you to remember, I don’t want you to note or recollect everything I said today. I just want you to remember all of those things I described. If you insist on remembering something I said, then let me ask that you remember the last two words: Go Blue.”

Afterward, Schlissel spoke, musing on his time as a student journalist at Princeton University. Schlissel credited his experience reporting as preparation for his career as University president. Princeton’s student publication, the Princetonian, recently digitized its archives, something Schlissel noted has allowed him to reflect on his time as a college student and hopes the Daily’s archives will do the same.

“The new archives we’re celebrating tonight represent an important milestone in University of Michigan student journalism,” Schlissel said. “In a place like the U of M, a chronicle of our university is also a record of the larger society. This project exemplifies the culture of innovation that is thriving throughout our university.”

Schlissel then performed the first official online search of the Daily’s digital archives, searching for a column written by former Daily columnist Haya Alfarhan titled, “Sit with your differences.”

“When privileged individuals are unwilling to interrogate their internalized biases because it makes them uncomfortable, it forces students with marginalized identities to trigger themselves emotionally to make a point,” Alfarhan wrote in the column. “Privileged comfort comes at the cost of triggering marginalized students. Students who trigger themselves to do so because these topics consume their lives and a lack of discourse in class is genuinely painful for them … Yes, professors should be able to facilitate their class discussions better, but it’s also students’ responsibility to engage wholeheartedly.”

Following Schlissel’s remarks, a panel spoke, consisting of LSA senior Shoham Geva, editor-in-chief of the Daily for the 2016 calendar year, Neil Chase, executive editor of The Mercury News in addition to being chair of the Student Publications Board and Philip Power, founder of The Center for Michigan, a nonprofit organization aimed at curing statewide political culture.

The panelists — moderated by McDonald — discussed a number of topics, primarily challenges in the field. Power experienced issues with regard to coverage of the Dean of Women and the Vietnam War; Chase, however, experienced financial barriers when the Daily shifted from being a paid publication to free distribution under his tenure and Geva discussed the challenges she faced with diversity and entering the digital age. 

Power highlighted the entrepreneurial attempts of nonprofit journalism.

“The Daily is what honed our interest and our capacity to take complex things and put them into sensible pros and argumentative politics,” Power said. “There is not enough money in the philanthropic ecosystem to fund and sustain nonprofit journalism in the scope and intensity that we need in order to save this country.”

Ultimately, the panelists concluded with a discussion of maintaining public engagement in current political context.

Micheline Maynard, Daily alum and Knight-Wallace fellow for 1999-2000, said in an interview after the event the archives serve multiple purposes that will be beneficial to many communities.

“This is going to be an incredibly valuable resource for those of us who write books, those of us who are interested in journalism and especially those of us who were born in Ann Arbor, because this is a tool for us to look back on our town,” Maynard said. “It’s very rare to find an archive this complete and that goes back as far as it does.”