Collections of Digitised Newspapers as Historical Sources

Collections of Digitised Newspapers as Historical Sources
by Vicky Garnett

By the end of this submodule, you should…

  • Be aware of the steps the digitisation of newspapers implies and have elements to decipher the documentation provided on the digitisation by institutional holders:
  • Know what the METS/ALTO format is,
  • Understand how are the newspapers rendered text-searchable via OCR.
  • Understand the process of digitisation
  • Be able to assess the usability of the digitised source, e.g. to what extent it is searchable and how to adapt your use of it, both for research and in the context of teaching

Newspapers are a widespread and extremely rich source for historical research. With their diversification over time and their daily production, they capture many of the events that preoccupied past societies worldwide, in many languages. They began to be collected systematically at a very early stage by national libraries, where we can find huge collections of both major and less prominent titles. These rich collections were originally stored in their original paper format. In the second half of the 20th century, microfilm became a popular medium for newspapers, and since the 21st century, newspapers have increasingly been scanned and published online. Digitised newspapers cover a wide variety of types, languages and time periods. The process of digitisation has facilitated access to these collections but also raises new challenges in terms of both use and source criticism.

What has digitisation changed in the use of newspapers for historical research? It has made it much easier to search for individual articles via the interface of a digitised newspaper collection. It has also changed the way we keep track of the context in which the article was published, compared to searching for articles in a more traditional manner on paper or microfilm. The digitised format changes the way we find articles, read them and makes collecting individual articles easier than making copies from an analogue source, but how can we deal with larger quantities? Does the digital format of collections enable these historical sources to be linked with other historical sources and databases, or even digitised newspaper collections hosted by different institutions? We endeavour to shed light on the complexities of using newspapers as historical sources and explore how this process has been affected by digitisation.

How to use this section

The aim of the lesson is to offer an academic perspective on digitised newspapers: what changes have been brought about by digitisation, how do they affect the practice of research, and what are the potentialities and current practices when it comes to using historical newspapers for research? Starting with an introduction on using newspapers as historical sources, the lesson explores the nature of digitised newspapers as historical objects. Next, we examine how these newly created objects enable new interactions. Finally, we outline a selection of current research projects and identify trends in the use of digitised newspapers in academia.

What to expect in this section

  • Information on applying source criticism to digitised newspapers
  • An overview of the current possibilities for interaction and a short introduction to some text mining techniques applied to digitised newspaper collections
  • A summary of research practices using digitised newspapers, a bibliography of digitised newspaper collections and a list of research projects on digitised newspapers