The U.S. news map works best on a larger screen. Click here to email a link to yourself for later viewing.
This interactive map, put together by the Georgia Tech Research Institute and the University of Georgia's eHistory initiative, uses the Library of Congress' database of historical newspapers, Chronicling America, to track frequency of keywords in newspapers and visualize the results across time and space.
"The frequency graph on each search is similar to Google’s Ngram, but more reflective of actual usage, since books take years to go into print and reappear years later in multiple editions," wrote Claudio Saunt, a historian at the University of Georgia, in an email. Newspaper keyword searching can give an immediate sense of how language evolved day to day between 1836 and 1922 (the span of time covered by Chronicling America's collection).
Saunt suggested a search for a word like miscegenation, which was first used in 1863. As you watch instances of a word's use expand across the map, you can pause the animation and click on the blue dots that flag a keyword's appearance in a given city's newspaper, then navigate out to the Chronicling America page that will let you read the coverage for yourself.
In the case of miscegenation, a little tour through 19th-century coverage of the word shows how newspapers in the North and South reported on interracial relationships. In the Point Pleasant, Virginia, Weekly Register, on May 28, 1879, the word popped up in the paper's reporting of a "Miscegenation Scandal": "A young woman of high social standing, but who for several years has been a source of anxiety to her parents and friends, got huffed, and, out of spite, married a colored miner."
Meanwhile, in Montpelier, Vermont's Green-Mountain Freeman, on May 1, 1878, you can find the reported story of a "colored man" who had been arrested for public drunkenness, and the "very handsome white woman, of the pure blonde type" who had come to bail him out of jail. While the Vermont paper was not nearly so horrified as the Virginia one, the Freeman's piece makes it clear how unusual such partnerships were considered to be in that time and place.
Try inputting loaded words, like lynching or strikebreakers; celebrities' names, like "Mark Twain" or "Jefferson Davis"; or conceptual terms, like hatred or populist.