A Day for Bacchus: Chicago's Ethnic New Year and the Scholl Center's Latest Digital Initiative

The FLPS
The FLPS

“We can truly say that in America New Year’s Day lives up to the tradition of the ancients, and there aren’t any prohibitive laws able to stop the sacrifices on that day to the ‘God’ of gaiety and joy.”
- O. Antilogos, “The First of the Year,” Greek Daily, Jan. 2, 1929.

New Years has just passed, and many of us likely celebrated the occasion in a similar fashion. Whether it’s toasting champaign, crowding Times Square, or watching the ball drop from the comfort of our home, the American New Year has become an event of gregarious uniformity. But a 1929 item from the Greek Daily, a Greek-language newspaper based in Chicago, reminds us this has not always been the case. The Daily claims that throughout the late nineteenth century, Greeks in Chicago were regularly rounded up and arrested for playing a traditional card game called passeta. While Greeks claimed they were celebrating their ethnic heritage, Chicago’s police claimed they were gambling. It wasn’t until 1890 that the city council granted permission for the Chicago’s Greek community to host passeta tournaments.

This snippet from Chicago’s ethnic history is one of the nearly 50,000 articles that are a part of the Scholl Center’s latest digital initiative, the Foreign Language Press Survey. The Survey originated as a project of the New Deal’s U.S. Federal Works Progress Administration. Overseen by the Chicago Public Library’s Omnibus Project, Survey staff translated articles on 22 different ethnic groups from Chicago’s ethnic and immigrant press. In total, the FLPS produced over 120,000 pages of translated text that remain housed in the Special Collections Research Center at the University of Chicago’s Regenstein Library. The collection was later microfilmed, but remained cumbersome to use, even after the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign digitized its holdings for the Internet Archive.

In 2009, the Nebwerry received a grant form the National Endowment for the Humanities to create a new digital transcription of the survey. The Scholl Center is thrilled to make that new resources public today at flps.newberry.org. The 1930s project intended to offer English-speaking researchers and students access to primary materials on ethnicity and urban life in one of America’s great polyglot cities during a formative span of its history. This digital collection is intended to provide broader and better organized access than has been possible with paper and microfilm. The Survey translations have considerable value for teaching and research in immigration studies, urban history, the history of popular culture, and many other fields. They can reward browsing for curiosity as well as targeted research.

Feel free to browse or search the Survey, and discover the myriad of ways Chicago’s many ethnic communities worked, lived, and even celebrated in the city.

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