City-Wide Web Portal Provides Groundbreaking Access to Chicago History | Newberry

City-Wide Web Portal Provides Groundbreaking Access to Chicago History

Newberry collection items, along with those of other premier cultural institutions in Chicago, featured on Explore Chicago Collections website.

Map showing the extent of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. In History of the Great Fires in Chicago and the West, by E. J. Goodspeed. 1871.

The Newberry’s collection of Dill Pickle Club materials include handbills, clippings, photographs, and other memorabilia.

Hundreds of playgoers died when a fire erupted in Chicago’s Iroquois Theatre on December 30, 1903, and sealed balcony stairs and locked exit doors impeded their escape. Chicago Tribune editorial cartoonist John T. McCutcheon published a cartoon shortly after the tragedy, spotlighting the negligence of the theatre’s operators.

October 2015

Explore Chicago Collections (ECC), a web-based portal providing free access to an array of archival materials documenting the social, cultural, and political development of Chicago, is now available to anyone with an interest in the Windy City's past—and an Internet connection. The Newberry is among the cultural institutions whose Chicago-related collections are represented in the portal; others include the Chicago History Museum, Northwestern University, and the Art Institute of Chicago. The photographs, manuscripts, maps, and ephemera housed within each of these places have enormous research value in and of themselves. But when a single website serves as a conduit to separate institutional collections, their value is magnified. On the Explore Chicago Collections site, subject searches yield results from a pool that exceeds the boundaries of any one institution, allowing materials to intersect in ways that have previously been impossible.

Users of the new portal will encounter finding aids for locating items within the physical repositories to which they belong. In some cases, digitized versions of certain objects are available as well. The metadata records connected to these digital images display information within the Explore Chicago Collections environment, while also linking to proprietary digital collections associated with the home institutions. Anyone who comes across Newberry materials in Explore Chicago Collections will be able to toggle over to Chicago and the Midwest, a digital collection launched to coincide with the introduction of the ECC portal and designed to present a wider range of Newberry images users find there.

Chicago and the Midwest unites many of the Newberry’s premier archival collections illuminating Chicago history, some of which are now digitally available for the first time. The variety of the materials—artwork, maps, photographs, manuscripts, and printed texts—accessible through Chicago and the Midwest is matched by the range of the topics covered, from the city’s and the region’s settlement and growth to their politics and inhabitants.

Highlights of the digital collection include maps showing the extent of the Great Chicago Fire; original drawings by the political cartoonist John T. McCutcheon; letters written home by visitors to the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893; and handbills, playbills, and other ephemera from the Dill Pickle Club, the early-twentieth-century bohemian redoubt for Chicago’s literati and radical political thinkers such as Sherwood Anderson, Floyd Dell, and Ben Reitman.

Over time, the Newberry’s Digital Initiatives and Services staff will continue to add content from the library’s archives to both Explore Chicago Collections and the Chicago and the Midwest digital repository, contributing to a digital research environment in which users interact with the original historical materials constituting Chicago’s past in new and increasingly interconnected ways.