Week Two Practicum Blog: Locating Digital History Sites on D-Day and the Media

A quick Google search of my dissertation topic on D-Day and the media nearly overwhelmed me with hits about the basic facts behind the Normandy invasion on 6 June 1944. Unfortunately, nothing I found suggested to me  an ongoing scholarly conversation about my topic. However, I found numerous examples of sites hosting digitized primary sources — specifically American newspapers from across the country and actual radio broadcasts of the invasion — that I know will prove extraordinarily useful to my research.

I began by searching for anything related to “D-Day and the Media.”  Surprisingly, the first result was for an organization, D-Day Media Group, which promotes music, film, art, and literature on behalf of the African diaspora.  I could not discern why the group chose to name itself “D-Day,” but my first guess would be to suggest a “global invasion” of African-produced and inspired art.  But the many, many links that followed this first search result highlighted numerous American and international news Web sites reporting on the recent 70th anniversary of D-Day. Clearly, the timing of my search had everything to do with elevating the status of these search hits to the first 20 or so on Google.  The commemorations of D-Day by these sites took many forms. The BBC, for example, had actor Benedict Cumberbatch reading aloud the actual transcripts of BBC  radio newsflashes while Quinnipiac University’s Web site advertised how the school had “Tweeted” facsimile images of D-Day front pages. While my research is clearly focused on the news media’s reporting at the time of the invasion, these commemorative efforts for the 70th anniversary essentially represented, as Roy Rosenzweig and Daniel Cohen might have suggested, Web-based examples of public and community history at work.  But these sites were extremely useful in supporting my broader contention (dare I say “hypothesis”) that D-Day remains today a seminal American memory of the war due largely to the media. Most notably, the use of period newspapers and old radio sound clips  to reinforce America’s (and the world’s) existing memory and perspective of D-Day was quite striking to me.

Despite altering the text of my search phrases to “D-Day and Newspapers” and “D-Day and Radio,” I still found no evidence of an ongoing scholarly conversation about how the media portrayed the invasion and that portrayal’s effect on American memory. A few hits highlighted the term of propaganda but only in the most extreme, negative sense (mainly Wikipedia). Actually, news reportage during D-Day was much more nuanced in this regard.

What I found to be most useful, or potentially useful, were the online archives that hosted complete audio files of the radio coverage on D-Day and troves upon troves of newspapers reporting the invasion in one way or another. Two of the most intriguing sites were “paywalled” and thus, for the moment, out of reach: www.archives.com and www.newspaperarchive.com. Both sites emphasized newspapers as a genealogy source, but they also carefully organized their archives by state, city, and township, which will prove very useful to me as I attempt to discern a “regional” (if it existed) flavor to the nature of the D-Day reporting.  For example, did the reporting on the West Coast, which was closest geographically to the war in the Pacific and whose state populations even felt directly threatened by the Japanese, elevate the D-Day invasion to top billing?  The answer is behind the paywalls.  Frankly, I did not expect to encounter such extensive online newspaper archives outside of what I have already sampled from ProQuest.  And, as expected, ProQuest’s sources did not “pop” on the Google search.

I targeted my next search to the place where I knew I would find an online trove of digitally archived newspapers and perhaps vintage radio broadcasts – the National Archives Web site.  I was surprised to see that, while www.newspaperarchive.com boasted newspapers dating back to 1607, the National Archives advertised only 1690 to the present, leaving 83 years of colonial and pre-colonial newspapers possibly unavailable online or listed as a holding.  Yet I was more surprised to find that while the Archives had digitized many newspapers (the OCR scans were of varying quality but the close-up feature was fantastic), many were simply listed as holdings accessible only on site via microfilm or in the document’s original form. The search engine was very good, though. The choices available to narrow one’s search — frequency of a topic, ethnicity of the target audience, etc. — seemed extremely useful and very relevant to my research.  I plan to spend much, much more time on this site in the future.

In the end, I found several digital-history sites — mostly archival in nature — that will help me immensely to locate the relevant and important sources I need to serve the cause of my argument.  At first blush, the online sources can seem overwhelming; but, after a bit of digging and classifying the sites, I found that I could screen for the most useful ones rather quickly.  This practicum was most productive!

Steve Rusiecki

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