Finding Poetry Amid Historic News Pages

And then this newspaper is from 1876. And the poem is here. Poetry often shared the front page with headlines of the day in 19th century newspapers. Political candidates might be topics of poems. The eye quickly zeroes in on a poem. I’m sort of drawn to it because of the white space and the jagged features of both sides of the poem. Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are looking for an efficient way to spot poetry in the millions of pages that have been digitized as part of Chronicling America, a database of historic newspapers. You’ve got the material there. If you can’t find what you’re ultimately interested in, it’s not that useful. And so we want to be pushing people to be thinking more broadly about how we access and how we use these collections. The answer is a collaboration between UNL libraries and computer science. For computer students capture this process, this vision process, is not easy. We learned that archived digitized newspaper pages, they come in all shapes and sizes. Some are so noisy. Some are so poorly maintained. So one size doesn’t fit all. A software program teaches the computer to search for poetry using images instead of text. Students who are part of the project learn communication, team work, and problem-solving skills. There’s no precedence set for what we’re doing right now. So we’re basically having to start from scratch and deal with each bug and problem as it comes up. In a research setting, you don’t necessarily know there’s a way to do it. You’re trying to get it done and see if it works. It’s more open-ended. The technique could be used for other large data sets and even information in other languages. If poems have these characteristics regardless of language, let’s say, so that means we don’t have to understand the language in order to detect the poems. So this is not just for English. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, researchers plan to create a database of poems linked to Chronicling America. UNL’s, of course, a world leader in digital humanities. This is very much the place to be doing this sort of research. Making sense of the digital world helps scholars study the past.

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