1. What is Lantern?

Lantern is the search platform for the collections of the Media History Digital Library, an open access initiative led by Eric Hoyt and the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research. The Media History Digital Library (MHDL) digitizes collections of classic media periodicals that belong in the public domain for full public access.

In 2011, Eric Hoyt, Carl Hagenmaier, and Wendy Hagenmaier began developing fulltext search for the MHDL from a kitchen table in Los Altos, California (you can read their "Working Theory" essay about the early phases of development). When Eric accepted a position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he brought Lantern's development with him and found even more collaborators (see Credits). In 2013, the project took on visualization as an additional goal and reached its version 1.0 release.

2.How does the search process work?

Lantern searches an index of nearly 3 million pages. Each document maps to a specific page in our collection. (Big thanks and credit go to Andy Myers for innovating our page-level indexing process.) By searching every page as a unique document, our search engine can run quickly and efficiently.

Most of the underlying books and magazines, on the other hand, were scanned and cataloged as bound volumes. This is why Lantern displays a specific page but the metadata refers to the bound volume in which the page appears.

Visit the Media History Digital Library website to see the magazines curated into collections by subject matter and a blog discussing particular works in more depth.

3. What is the copyright status of these materials?

To determine which materials are available for digitization, we check the U.S. copyright status of all titles. We reviewed every copyright renewal for serials (magazines) published from 1923 to 1950, and for titles after those dates, we search the copyright records for the status of the major publications published from 1951 to 1963.

The copyrights for nearly all of these media industry, fan and technical publications were not renewed, and those pre-1964 works are now in the public domain.

David Pierce, the founder of the Media History Digital Library, is the author of a reference work on copyright and has performed thousands of copyright searches for hundreds of clients over the last thirty years.

4. May I reuse these materials?

Most definitely.

All materials in the Media History Digital Library are available for free viewing and free download. We ask that you not rehost the files, and talk to us if you want to use them in bulk for commercial purposes.

Citing the Media History Digital Library as a source is requested, but not a condition of use.

5. Can I write scripts to interact with Lantern?

Yes. There are millions of searchable pages in the MHDL collections, which we hope will support many kinds of research projects. You can form queries and retrieve item metadata in JSON format. Click here to read more about this functionality.

This is a good option to search the actual text content and work with individual pages. But if you just need to search broadly across the collections and work with whole volumes (e.g. full magazines, pressbooks, trade journals) then it may be more useful for you to use the MHDL Collection on the Internet Archive and use their APIs instead.

6. Give me more magazines!

We hope this is what you are thinking. We want more magazines online too.

As a non-profit initiative, your support is what enables us to keep building our collections. Please consider making a donation at https://secure.supportuw.org/give/

Have more questions? Visit the MHDL website for more information.

New Features and Recent Updates

  • Upgrade to use Blacklight version 7.0 and updated versions of Ruby on Rails
  • New Lantern logo
  • Improved responsive design for use on mobile devices
    • We are especially interested to hear how well Lantern works (or doesn't work) on various devices. Please let us know how it goes for you!
  • Redesigned Advanced Search form
    • Now includes a collapsible section to display additional search options
    • The "search by metadata only" is now a checkbox instead of "Lantern Hack: Enter 0001"
  • Redesigned Front Landing Page
    • Includes a dynamically updated count of the number of available pages to search
    • Includes an automatically generated visualization of recently added volumes
  • Added option to individual page views to report inaccurate or missing info - and automatically send this information via a Slack bot to our team
  • Added option to individual page views to search for pages from the same volume
  • Custom 404 and 500 HTTP error pages
  • Added functionality to display alert messages at the top of the page
  • From the search results page, the option to "Click to Read with Search Highlighted" should now work for both basic searches and advanced searches
  • Any HTML contained within an item's description field will now be parsed and rendered on individual item pages
  • Added option on individual item pages to display processed OCR text. This should make it easier to copy/paste a sentence that you want to quote!
  • Enabled the basic implementation of JSON-API to allow programmatic access to Lantern queries and individual item data. Read more and see examples.
  • Improved middleware security configuration to protect against DOS/DDOS attacks and attempted RCE
  • Added Dark Mode and Light Mode!

Known Issues

  • (2022-07-13) The front-page visualization of recent scans may display blank covers. This is because the images are dynamically pulled from the Internet Archive, and the "first page" may actually be a scan of a blank book cover
Please see the Changelog for more details


If you have comments, suggestions, or are running into a problem, please Report it to us so that we can continue to improve Lantern for everyone. Your reports and feedback will help our team identify any issues with Lantern and/or item metadata as well as help us to prioritize future development.

Permanent Beta

We have spent a decade developing Lantern, and we consider it to be in "permanent beta." We look forward to continuing to enhance and improve the platform and the underlying collections. Help us by letting us know how we can improve. You can e-mail us at mhdl@commarts.wisc.edu.

Immediate priorities for development include:

  • Customized BookReader application featuring print and download buttons, "more like this" option, and tighter integration with the main Lantern interface.
  • Improved advanced search form.
  • Improved search highlighting within BookReader ("Read in Context" view).
  • Resource for educators that share methods and examples of using the MHDL and Lantern in classroom contexts
  • Fundraising to digitize an additional 3 million pages of material.

More long-term development goals include:

  • Page-level and article-level metadata
  • Cross-indexing with other historical resources and digital projects

Impact Stories

Our Google Analytics account shows the quantity of users, but it doesn't tell us anything about how the MHDL materials are being used or how the MHDL and Lantern are making an impact.

If you have found these resources to be valuable in your life or work, please let us know. Specific examples of how the MHDL and Lantern have enabled new research or teaching possibilities are especially appreciated.

By sharing your impact story, you will be helping us gain more of the resources we need to continue forward with our work.

E-mail your impact stories to ehoyt (at) wisc (dot) edu. Thank you.

Mailing List

Coming Soon!


As a non-profit initiative, your support is what enables us to keep building our collections. Please consider making a donation at https://secure.supportuw.org/give/