Every September, Professor Emeritus Manny Paraschos would bring his journalism students down to Parkman Bandstand in Boston Common and read aloud stories from Publick Occurences, the first newspaper published in America, in 1690.
With Paraschos’s retirement this spring, the pilgrimages to the bandstand will end. But thanks to his donation to the Emerson Archives of dozens of historic Boston newspapers dating back to the 18th century, students’ immersion in the foundations of American journalism will go on.
“They are all original,” Paraschos said of his collection. “The fun part for the students was they were able to touch and feel the old newsprint and also feel the impression of the font to the…paper. [O]ld papers especially had a lot of cotton in them. It is nothing like today’s newsprint.”
Over the past 20 years, Paraschos, creator of the Boston Journalism Trail website and book of the same name, has collected dozens of original copies of newspapers and magazines that tell the stories of the founding of the nation, and with them, the evolution of American journalism.
One of the papers Paraschos donated to Emerson is the March 12, 1770 Boston Gazette, which features a breathless (and largely inaccurate) account of the March 5 Boston Massacre, along with a graphic inventory of the dead and wounded and a Paul Revere engraving of four coffins to commemorate the men who had thus far died (a fifth would later die of his injuries).
The story ran on Page 2. The front page of the March 12 Gazette was reserved for some resolutions from surrounding towns in support of boycotting British imports and a scathing rebuttal to a letter published in a different (presumably royalist) publication.
Many 18th-century papers from Paraschos’s collection blanketed the front page with what amounted to classified and legal ads—announcements of new businesses, dowries, language lessons for sale, petitions for name changes—with a little political polemic tossed in. As late as 1866, the Boston Post was reserving the left half of Page 1 for ads for insurance agents, bankers, and real estate.
In addition to lacking what modern readers would consider “stories,” historical front pages also lack headlines, design, hierarchy, and images, beyond a few simple engravings. They’re tough to read, but if you can scale the walls of text, you get a fascinating peek at what made the young nation tick.
Paraschos’s collection of Boston publications also includes issues of The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper, which he started in 1831 and closed down in December 1865, once slavery was abolished; The Woman’s Journal, edited by Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone, and devoted “to the interests of Woman—to her educational, industrial, legal and political equality, and especially to her right of Suffrage”; and the Boston Post, which would eventually become the first to report on con artist extraordinaire Charles Ponzi’s eponymous scheme.
“It’s a blessing for us to be teaching journalism in the heart of Boston, because all that [history] is a few blocks away from campus,” Paraschos said.
Now, some of it is actually on campus.
Jenn Williams, Emerson’s head of archives and special collections, said some of the papers in the collection, dating to the 1740s, are the oldest artifacts in the College’s possession. They’ll be kept in archival quality enclosures to preserve them for generations to come.
She said she plans to use the publications in much the same way Paraschos did, to give students a taste of living history, as well as to make connections with new faculty.
“This is something I can see getting widely used, not just for journalism [students], but for all kinds of history,” Williams said.
When Paraschos would introduce his students to the roots of their chosen field, particularly in more recent years, he would have to teach them about obsolete aspects of reporting and publishing that are practically foreign concepts to young journalists armed with laptops and smartphones.
But there’s one aspect of journalism that he’s never had to teach, he said.
“The interesting thing for me has been that they seem to accept the idea that this is a calling, not a job,” Paraschos said. “They all know they’re not going to make money; they all know there aren’t going to be any 40-hour weeks; they all know there isn’t any 9–5.
“They would say, ‘We want to make sure somebody keeps an eye on those in power…We want to make sure the underprivileged, the underserved have a say. We want to help,’’ Paraschos said. “That was a song to my ears.”