Access to Milwaukee Historical Newspapers Hit-and-Miss

Urban Milwaukee reports on the loss of access to the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel archives.

The Encyclopedia of Milwaukee is a a Digital Humanities Project sponsored by the History Department in the College of Letters and Science at UW-Milwaukee. The growing database includes “approximately 700 entries on Milwaukee history topics ranging from arts and culture to philanthropy and nonprofit organizations to business and labor. … Entries include footnotes that allow readers to see where authors found their information.”

Many of the footnotes in the site naturally led to stories in the city’s historic daily newspapers, particularly The Milwaukee Journal (founded in 1882) and Milwaukee Sentinel (founded in 1837) which merged in 1995.

It appears that the encyclopedia, like many other sites, has been partially crippled by the frequent disappearance of The Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel archives. That “now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t” resource is the only link to a searchable database of the city’s history as recorded in the daily press — an irreplaceable public asset, and one that should be readily accessible. Previous to 2016, the old newspapers could be freely found and searched via Google and NewsBank. Since then it has been hit-and-miss.

It appears that access to the archives has been restricted as a potential source of revenue with a hefty $1.5 million asking price – way too high for any Milwaukee library to afford and joint library purchase is apparently not permitted.

Wisconsin citizens do have access to several historical Wisconsin newspapers, Milwaukee excluded, through the Archive of Wisconsin Newspapers via Badgerlink.  The database contains full-text daily and weekly Wisconsin newspapers from 2005 to 90 days ago, plus select newspapers from the 1800s and 1900s – see list of available titles/dates.  If you live in Wisconsin and you’re not familiar with Badgerlink, you’re missing out.  It is a collection of personal interest and research subscription databases made freely available to all Wisconsin citizens through the Department of Public Instruction.  Here’s a nifty video that explains what you can find with Badgerlink.