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The Oklahoman's Archives: A window to the past

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Did you know you had access to the best time machine ever invented?

At a conference this past week, I had the opportunity to listen to an historian speak about how he and some of his recent students used newspaper archives from the 1860s to transport themselves back to the time right before the Civil War.

In one of the projects, they focused on the Virginia's Secession Convention, when Virginia representatives debated whether or not to secede from the United States. They put the transcripts of the debates, which were published by the Richmond Enquirer, into a database which allowed them to cross-reference the text with other data about speakers, etc., to get a better understanding of the debate context.

As a history enthusiast, I was fascinated by the discussion. I love digging through old newspapers as a way to understand the way people in that era saw the world.

It reminds me of my visit to Tombstone, Ariz., as a tourist years ago. I left that day with one souvenir — a replica of the Oct. 27, 1881 Tombstone Epitaph with the day-after accounts of the much-depicted shootout at the OK Corral. When you have an hour someday, just ask me. I'll fill up your time with what I know and have read about Wyatt, Doc and the Clantons.

My take-away from the historian, Dr. Ed Ayers, who happens to currently be the president of the University of Richmond, is that the archives at newspapers like The Oklahoman are rich with information.

We're a young state. The Oklahoman's archives only go back to Sept. 25, 1901, so we don't have any reporting on the Civil War or even Doc Holliday. But we do have an amazing amount of context to our history lessons.

 

Our correspondent in Washington D.C. knows it. Chris Casteel took a breather from reporting the day's events on Monday, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the decisions of federal appeals courts that had struck down bans on same-sex marriage, thereby allowing marriages to proceed in Oklahoma.

Casteel remembered a front-page story we published in 1983. He looked it up and blogged about it, giving us a brief history lesson on what Oklahomans learned about the gay community on that day 31 years ago. His blog on that topic became one of our most popular pieces of content on a day full of hot news items.

Our author of 'The Archivist' knows it, too. Mary Phillips has a column that appears each week in The Oklahoman's Life section on Mondays. I love reading her stuff each week, because it gives me a doorway into the past.

Like I said, I'm a history enthusiast. There are a lot of us out there.

What's all this information worth? It's invaluable really. Devon Energy thinks so., which is why Devon sponsors The Oklahoman's digital archives and pays for access to the archives to schools and students throughout the state.

There's a lot to be learned from understanding how we got here. There's no better way to grasp historical events than by going back to that time. And until someone comes forward with a time machine, there's no better way to visit a specific time in history than by browsing the newspapers of that day.

A time machine like The Oklahoman's archives is free and open to all subscribers of The Oklahoman. All you have to do is connect your subscription account with your digital access, and you are in.

Our window to the past is yours.

 

 

 

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Alan Herzberger

Alan Herzberger is the Vice President of Audience Development at The Oklahoman Media Company. He focuses on digital strategies for The Oklahoman and for NewsOK.com. He’s been with The Oklahoman since 1997, when he joined the sports department.... Read more ›

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