August 4, 2017, by Stuart Moran

Digitally Preserving the Hennessy Collection

The Centre for Research on Cuba is home to the Hennessy Collection, which is a unique archive of Cuban periodicals from the 1960s through to the 1990s. Originally donated to the Forum for the Study of Cuba by Professor Alistair Hennessy in 1994, the archive currently holds over 70 different journals and newspapers, including extensive runs of Noticias de Hoy, Revolucion , Bohemia , Granma , Verde Olivo and Pensamiento Critico. The collection of newspapers and journals continues to the present, and is being further supplemented by over 1400 books, videos, journal articles, conference papers, official documents and cuttings purchased with funds from the University of Nottingham, collected or donated by members of the Forum in Britain and Cuba.

A major part of the newspaper collection was folded and stored in boxes for over 50 years, meaning the materials have become extremely delicate and prone to damage if handled. This renders the materials inaccessible by researchers for fear of permanent damage. The Digital Research Team approached Professor Antoni Kapcia to explore how this collection could be digitally preserved and made accessible to all.

The Universities Digital Humanities Centre has a fantastic range of specialist hardware and software facilities for digital preservation via scanning, photography, graphic design and video recording. Following some training, these facilities are freely available to staff and students across the University. The team recruited an assistant through Unitemps to digitise the newspapers using the facilities at the DHC.  Given the delicacy and size of the papers, we opted to use a DSLR camera mount with controlled and angled lighting. This meant the papers were handled as little as possible, could be fully compressed using a large sheet of glass, and the broadsheets captured in their entirety using high resolution photographs.

The following is the process we followed for digitising and preserving the materials:

  1. Scan newspaper pages in .CR2 format
  2. Crop and rotate images in photoshop
  3. Convert pages to .TIFF format with 900-1200 DPI resolution for preservation
  4. Convert and stitch into a multi-page .PDF for ease of reading/analysing
  5. Store using the naming convention YEAR-MONTH-DAY-PAGE or YEAR-MONTH-DAY

In just under 100 hours, 120 newspapers were completely scanned and 57 of those were cropped and stitched into easily accessible PDFs. This translates into around 3.5 months worth of daily news papers fro 1967. Copyright was abolished in Cuba on revolutionary and anti-capitalist grounds between 1967 and the late 1970s, and all fully scanned newspapers are strictly within this period.

The next steps for this work are to continue to digitise the newspapers, and explore how this digital archive can be made more widely available through platforms such as the universities Multimedia Online Archiving Service.

Please Note: If you have particularly rare or delicate items that you wish to be digitised, we recommend you contact Manuscripts and Special Collections at the university who are a dedicated team that specialise in digital preservation.

If you would like to discuss how digital technologies can support your research please do get in touch with the Digital Research Team.



Next blog in series: “What is a qualitative researcher to do…” – Digitising a Newspaper Archive

Previous blog in series: Emerging Research Opportunities from Digitised Newspaper Data

Stuart Moran, Digital Research Specialist for Social Sciences



Posted in Digital Initiatives