As a researcher in Caribbean Studies, the Digital Library of the Caribbean’s Newspaper collection has served as an essential resource. This access to digitized newspapers from dLOC’s Caribbean partners is even more important for researchers now due to COVID-19. dLOC’s Caribbean Newspaper Digital Library (CNDL) provides access to digitized versions of Caribbean newspapers, gazettes, and other research materials on newsprint currently held in archives, libraries, and private collections. CNDL has 300 newspapers and counting within the collection. dLOC also participates in the Chronicling America database by the Library of Congress and contributes Florida and Puerto Rican newspapers. With the aid of a recent Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) grant, the University of Florida (dLOC’s Technical hub) will be digitizing an additional 800,000 pages of pre-1923 Caribbean newspapers and making them available on dLOC and Biblioteca Digital Puertorriqueña.
When conceptualizing the “dLOC as Data” project, our intent was to provide the text for select newspapers and make it available for users for bulk download. At that point, the last OCR performed on the newspaper collection was over a decade ago and the technology has improved significantly. We recognize that even with these improvements, there will still be inaccuracies, but part of the project includes providing documentation on these issues.
Since the dLOC as Data project is focused on hurricanes and tropical cyclones, we decided to narrow down the list to national newspapers across the numerous Caribbean countries represented in the collection. Our initial “wish list” had over 60 newspapers, but for the project we narrowed down to 19 newspapers including: Barbados Mercury and Bridge-town Gazette, Diario de La Marina (Cuba), Boletin Mercantil de Puerto Rico, Correspondencia de Puerto Rico, Revue-Express (Haiti), Revista de Cayo Hueso (Cuba), Le Nouvelliste (Haiti), Port of Spain Gazette (Trinidad), Le Matin (Haiti), Bohemia (Cuba), The Herald (St. Croix), Tribune (Bahamas), El Mundo (Puerto Rico), Noticias de Hoy (Cuba), Aruba Esso News, Barbados Advocate, Haiti Sun, Panama American, and Star (Dominica). Several of these newspapers, Diario de La Marina (Cuba) 1844-1961, Le Nouvelliste (Haiti) 1898-1979, and Tribune (Bahamas) 1915-2018, covered significantly large time periods but might reveal gaps in the collection and reporting of hurricanes. It was important that the newspapers selected represented various time periods (late 1700s-1970s), multilingual, and able to have coverage of particular storms across different countries.
Some of our guiding questions for the “dLOC as Data” project included: How were these hurricanes described when traveling across different nations?; What stories of resilience can we find across these pages?; How have the impacts of these disasters changed over time?; What can we learn about climate change as well as disaster capitalism from this newspaper collection? Our project is inspired by the Colored Conventions Project Principles and we seek to name specific people and places as a way to affirm their value and experience during these disasters. We recruited multidisciplinary scholars to help us think through ethical ways the data could be used while highlighting the accounts of people we come across through the project. Ultimately, it is our hope that making the text available for users along with some toolkits focusing on particular storms, researchers can contribute new narratives about Caribbean resilience and innovation.