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Cultural Collections

Accessing History

By Lara Zielin

The first front page of The Michigan Daily, published in September 1890.

This past March, the Bentley Historical Library unveiled 12 decades of The Michigan Daily history through a new online database that contains searchable digital copies of the historic paper.

The digital archive contains every extant issue of The Michigan Daily, from its founding in 1891 to 2015—including more than 23,000 issues and 200,000 pages.

The digitization of The Michigan Daily was made possible by a gift from the Kemp Family Foundation.

The digitization of The Michigan Daily was made possible by a gift from the Kemp Family Foundation.

This exhaustive digitization effort was made possible by a generous gift from the Kemp Family Foundation, which was established by John B. Kemp (’60, J.D. ’63), founder and CEO of Lease Corporation of America in Troy, Michigan. He is also a co-founder and board chairman emeritus of the Troy, Michigan, law firm of Kemp Klein, which recently celebrated its 45th anniversary. The Foundation is the philanthropic arm of a family with deep roots in the history of the University of Michigan, with four generations of family members having received their education at U-M (see sidebar).

“The digitized Daily will help something we feel strongly about, which is history and the study of history,” says Kemp. “The Daily is a significant publication, so many important events are recorded in its pages.”

Kemp studied history at U-M and graduated in 1960, then went on to receive a J.D. from Michigan Law in 1963. He was on campus when John F. Kennedy gave his famous speech on the steps of the Union in the early hours of October 14, 1960. “At the time, Michigan was often referred to as the Harvard of the West,” Kemp says. “Kennedy, a Harvard graduate, commented that he was pleased to be in Ann Arbor as a graduate of the Michigan of the East.”

Kemp says it’s this kind of access to history that is part of the reason he wanted to fund the Daily digitization. “You can save people months of research if it’s all online and searchable,” he says. “Rather than having to look through a hundred boxes, it’s all there for you.”

He says he’s also concerned about the future of newspapers as he sees some local publications, including the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News, cutting staff. “I really think that it’s important, if these newspapers are going to disappear, that their historical publications are preserved. News that is electronic and not published—in some cases it gets published for a short time and then disappears forever. There are also recordings on tape, and that’s in danger of damage in the long-term.”

The Daily, he says, is a cornerstone for preserving Michigan history. “When you look at some of the alumni who were Daily writers, there’s a lot of pride there. Some of the most important things that have happened on campus are reflected in those pages.”

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