This website explores the use of printing presses at Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP) from the 1890s through the prison’s closure in 1970. Originally installed as a type of prison industry, to print forms, pamphlets, and books for the city and state, the presses were also used to print newsletters and magazines edited and written by incarcerated men. This site focuses on two publications in particular: The Umpire (1913-18) and Eastern Echo (1956-67), both of which are almost entirely extant in single fragile copies held at the Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site. Through curated exhibits, a collaborative research blog, and open access datasets, this website aims to generate more research and public interest in these rare, unknown materials and the unique stories they contain.

Project Timeline

This project began in Spring 2020, in Whitney Trettien’s undergraduate “Introduction to Digital Humanities” course. That semester, students generated and worked with archival data from the Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site (ESP), in collaboration with ESP archivist Erica Harman, as a means of learning digital humanities research methods. Although the sudden switch to remote learning in March 2020 put many plans on hold, this course resulted in two student-led and -designed digital projects: Blundin’s Blunder?, an interactive Ren’Py game exploring the questions faced by incarcerated women right after the prison’s opening, and a website documenting the use of quantitative methods in analyzing sex crimes, race, sentencing, and pardoning in the Admissions Books held at the American Philosophical Society. During this time, the copies of The Umpire held at Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site were also brought to the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image (SCETI) at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries to be photographed.

The Covid pandemic put any further work on hold until Fall 2022, when Whitney Trettien teamed up with Cosette Bruhns Alonso, Cassandra Hradil, and Andrew Janco in the Research Data and Digital Scholarship team at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries to begin the process of producing this website. SCETI photographed the copies of Eastern Echo held at ESP in Spring 2023, while research assistant Lauren Kim began indexing the digital copies of The Umpire, building on an earlier index generated and produced in FileMakerPro by researchers at ESP. An alpha version of this site was launched in June 2023.


Turning extremely rare and fragile physical materials into research-ready digital images requires many hands and much time. For their support, we thank Erica Harman, archivist at Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, who provided research assistance, freely shared her institution’s data, and literally shepherded the newspapers to the University of Pennsylvania to be digitized; Michael Overgard in SCETI and photographers Christopher Lippa and Andrea Nunez for expertly digitizing these materials; and Eric Dillalogue and John Pollack in the Kislak Center for Special Collections for logistical and research assistance.

Taking these materials and turning them into data also requires significant effort, led by team member Andrew Janco. We thank the Price Lab for Digital Humanities for providing the research funds that allowed us to hire and mentor research assistants, who are listed below; the Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site for freely providing us with their own earlier index of articles and granting us permission to publish our extended version here; and Nicky Agate, head of the Research Data and Digital Scholarship team, for supporting this project.

Core Team

    Research Assistants