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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

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L.A. Archives Bazaar

  Oct. 23, 2010, Archives Bazaar  
  Photograph by Larry Harnisch / Los Angeles Times  

The fifth annual L.A. Archives Bazaar on Saturday at USC’s Doheny Library.

I had the pleasure of being on one of the panels at the annual L.A. Archives Bazaar on Saturday at USC and thought I’d elaborate a bit on some of the questions and comments that were made about using old newspapers for research.

To recap for those who weren’t there, the moderators were USC librarians Dace Taube and Sue Tyson, and the other panelists were Michelle Welsing of the  Southern California Library and Nick Beck, former UPI correspondent and journalism teacher.

Michelle talked about Charlotta A. Bass, publisher of the California Eagle, whom I have mentioned on the Daily Mirror.  Anyone who is truly interested in understanding Los Angeles needs to look at the California Eagle and the Los Angeles Sentinel, two African American weeklies that are so different from the daily newspapers of the era that they almost exist in a parallel world.

Nick mentioned the once common practice of indicating ethnicity in news stories, such as “John Jones, colored” or “John Jones, Negro.” These sorts of references are common in the Los Angeles Examiner and The Times as late as the 1940s, but they are increasingly infrequent in the 1950s unless the story is dealing with something like desegregation of lunch counters or civil rights marches.

Several people were curious about accessing historic copies of The Times via ProQuest. The archives are available through or the Los Angeles Public Library website (you’ll need a library card to sign in). The Library of Congress also has a link to various historic newspapers, including the Los Angeles Herald.


The most important aspect of having newspaper archives online is that they will force historians to do more pick and shovel work in research instead of recycling material from other books. One of my favorite examples is the tale of Gen. Harrison Gray Otis’ armored car. At one time, it is was far easier for a writer to pick up (and sometimes embellish) a story from a book rather than hunt through reels of microfilm in hopes of finding a contemporary account.  With digitized newspapers, however, a conscientious researcher can locate the true story rather quickly. Historians who continue to cut and paste from old books without questioning or verifying the material can expect to be challenged with what is revealed in historic papers.  

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Comments (2)

Interesting info about the El Lay Archives Bazaar. Molly and me wanted to go, but unfortrunately "life" intervened. About not cutting and pasting from old books -- you have to try to make sure the contemporary news account is factual, not an old version of a Fox News-ish cloud-cookooland fantasy. As you suggest from the difference from the old Black newspapers and the white bread ones. My hometown newspaper in Iowa always used to identify a Black person as "John Jones, Negro", but would not identify the race of any other persons. And a Black would only be mentioned in the newspaper if a crime was involved. Boy, I hated that.

I wish I could have gone, it's always interesting. The panels sounded good again this year, and there's always some archive you never knew existed that is there passing out information.


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