November 27, 2015
Cuban Boat Crisis Papers (1994-1995)
The editor of a Cuban refugee crisis newspaper, El Balseros, recently notified HNP (see comments at the bottom of this page) of the existence of these handwritten papers produced in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba between 1994 and 1995. The University of Miami has posted images of these papers on a website recounting the history of the boat crisis. These papers are listed under the “Communication” section of that site. Thanks to the El Balseros editor for the heads up.
The Handwritten Newspapers Project
THE HANDWRITTEN NEWSPAPERS and periodicals from around the world in this collection are a testament to the universal journalistic impulse–the need to share news and information with others in a public setting. That impulse refuses to be constrained by mere convention or technology.
This site provides bibliographical data, images, resource links, and research notes for hundreds of rare manuscript publications produced under extraordinary conditions in remarkable settings. Most of the works contained here are from North America, particularly Canada and the United States. Most were published during the 19th century. However, this collection includes works from around the globe–including Asia, Europe, and Australia–and they date from the ancient world (Rome’s Acta Diurna) to the present (see the Japanese handwritten newspaper published March 2011 after that nation’s devastating earthquake and tsunami and the Urdu language paper in India handwritten since 1927).
This project is published in “blog” form so that journalism historians, social historians, and plain ol’ history buffs may have easy access to these unique handwritten periodicals and can contribute information about them more readily.
The handwritten newspapers and periodicals in this collection are individually identified by title, place of origin and initial date of publication, if known. Each bibliographic entry is divided into three sections containing a publication history, a general overview with the project editor’s comments based on a review of the available documentary evidence, and information on the known bibliographic resources for that particular publication and the archival location(s) of extant copies. When available, an image of an extant copy of the publication has been included. All entries containing images are indexed.In the right column of every web page is the site index that allows the user to sort the collection by date, alphabet, country, state/province, and type, as judged by the project editor. These categories have been applied to each publication to allow the user to interactively sort or group related publications as desired. Across the top of the website you’ll find separate pages of indexed material sorting the titles by alphabetical order, chronological order, geographical distribution, kind of publication, and resources for further research. I’ve also added a “pending” page for titles that have shown up on my radar and for books that cite handwritten papers, but which I haven’t had time yet to fully explore. I invite your assistance in adding to the list or filling out the details for cataloging.
Discovering the Publications in this Collection
The first handwritten newspaper I ever saw (Quarterly Visitor, IA, 1844) was set in front of me by a kind archivist at the State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City, in 1979. For better or worse, I have been chasing handwritten newspapers ever since. I have found them across the continent and in my travels overseas–in Europe, Australia, Asia and beyond.
But finding handwritten periodicals is a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. Most library catalogs (even today) give priority to printed materials. And most manuscript materials are squirreled away in archives that are cataloged or indexed inconsistently from library to library and even from archivist to archivist. In other words, thousands of handwritten publications may be out there in archive collections that will remain unknown until some enterprising archivist or historian stumbles upon them by accident.
The national newspaper project which led to the U.S. Newspapers Directory, 1690-Present, an excellent resource for identifying the country’s newspaper heritage and finding extant papers, did not provide guidelines on how to deal with handwritten newspapers in their historical searches. Thus, without clear criteria for inclusion or exclusion from the “newspaper” genre, handwritten publications were handled inconsistently, categorized under various names and labels (“hand written,” “holographic,” “manuscript,” etc.) or simply included without any notations or clarification about the papers being handwritten rather than printed. The current Directory identifies only a limited number of handwritten papers and does not provide adequate search parameters within the collection to locate them in the database.
This lack of consistency in cataloging handwritten publications in newspaper directories prompted me to turn directly to manuscript archivists, who would know best whether they had handwritten newspapers in their “manuscript” collections. I sent letters to nearly all the major (and many minor) archives and libraries in North America, thanks to a grant from the John Calhoun Smith Memorial Fund of the University of Idaho (where I was teaching journalism history at the time). In my cover letter, I simply asked if they knew of any handwritten periodicals in their collections.
I was skeptical, to say the least, about what my inquiry would yield, but I wanted to do my due diligence to discover, as much as possible, just how many handwritten publications were out there. I expected the archivists’ responses would demonstrate how extraordinarily rare they were. I was wrong. The response was overwhelming, stunning. The entries in this collection reveal that manuscript periodicals were much more common than anyone might have imagined.
Thanks to all the archivists and librarians who helped identify these handwritten needles in their archival haystacks. Without their assistance, this collection would be much smaller and the poorer.
Selecting Publications for this Collection
What is a newspaper? Until very recently journalism historians have had a print prejudice in defining the newspaper. But the technology of reproduction can mask a more important and fundamental characteristic: the desire to make one’s news and opinions public, readily available to others. Letters, previously only handwritten, were considered private affairs and lacked the public character expected of (printed) news. Print seemed almost intrinsically public, so the print bias of historians was not unreasonable. But it was a type of blindness to other means of literate public communication. As electronic newspapers and blogging have demonstrated in recent years, print isn’t the only medium that can “go public.” This collection shows, in the absence of print technology (in prison camps, aboard ships, in frontier mining camps, and in the wake of natural disasters), that handwritten papers can transcend their private letter stereotype and “go public” as well as any printed newssheet.
Still editorial judgment was necessary when determining if, say, a child’s or school’s handwritten paper should be included. Parodies and humorous sheets presented similar problems. I chose to err on the side of inclusiveness for the sake of future bibliographic research. Better to err on the side of including too much than to exclude too narrowly. None of these publications compare in scope, readership, professional reputation, etc., to the New York Times, of course. But then neither does the National Enquirer or the Drudge Report. Rather than let this bibliography get mired down in the ideological-tilting question of what is a “real” newspaper, I chose to include those publications that identified themselves as “newspapers” or mimicked the common characteristics of the news pages of their day. I included publications which clearly sought a public, rather than a private, audience. And just as there will likely be many more papers added to this collection in the years ahead, I suspect I will, upon further reflection and examination of new evidence, delete some entries from the current collection for not being intended for public consumption or turning out to be more of a letter or a lark than a newspaper.
I invite those who are aware of handwritten papers not yet included in this collection, can provide new or corrected information for the bibliographical entries listed, or wish to offer feedback about particular entries in this collection to share them on this site. I welcome your comments. I hope you enjoy exploring these fascinating handwritten newspapers and periodicals as much as I have.
Roy Alden Atwood
First Day of Summer, June 21, 2011
[Updated Ascension Day, May 14, 2015]