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Rare newspapers bring 18th-century poet to life

May 4, 2012 12:15 PM

English major Charles Knight spent his final semester immersed in rare 18th- and 19th-century newspaper articles about the Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759–1796).

“Elizabeth Sudduth, who is the Director of the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, and Tony Jarrells, my English professor, put together an internship for me,” said Knight, who graduated with a B.A. in English in May. The internship involved scanning and preparing to digitize newspapers that had references to Burns.

“The library has a large amount of newspapers that have articles about Burns in them," said Knight, who is working with Elizabeth Sudduth in the photo at left. "Newspapers are so fragile. You have to be very gentle with them, and Elizabeth and her team wanted people to be able to see and study them. The best way to do that is to digitize them so they’ll be accessible online.”

Knight scanned the newspapers and then entered metadata about each one. One of the earliest papers is The London Chronicle (1786), which features an advertisement for a volume of Burns’ poems. Another, The Scottish American Journal published in New York, features a front-page article by Henry Ward Beecher celebrating the 100th anniversary of Burns’ birth, dated January 29, 1859.

“I needed to have a good idea of what was there in the newspapers, and of who Burns was,” Knight said. “I had read a few of his poems in class but not in-depth, so I learned a lot about him. A lot of this project was technologically-oriented, which was great because as an English major, I wasn’t exposed to much new technology.”

Knight made a presentation about his work at the 25th annual Eighteenth-Century Scottish Studies Society Conference, an international conference which took place at USC April 12–15.