Newspapers, Journals and the Internet

Context

"It is clear even to the most casual observer of the historical profession that research practices are being gradually transformed by the digitisation of archives and primary sources. So many new digital resources are being released—cabinet papers, parliamentary proceedings, sound recordings, photographic collections—that it is difficult to keep up with the riches available. One of the most useful of these developments for modern British historians is the digitization of a number of significant newspaper archives. Although there was once widespread scepticism about using newspapers because of their doubtful accuracy and their ephemeral nature, ever since the ‘cultural turn’ and the increasing scholarly interest in language, representation and meaning, there are few who deny the value of newspaper content for understanding politics, culture and society. In recent years, the main obstacles to the use of newspapers have been practical—in particular, the inconvenience of accessing them and the difficulties of finding relevant material amongst the sheer quantity of content published. Digitization removes both of these central problems and raises the prospect of a far greater and more sophisticated engagement with newspaper content" (Bingham, 2010)

Newspaper & Magazine Archives

The British Newspaper Archive

The British Newspaper Archive contains around three million pages of newspaper content originally funded as part of a £3m contribution from JISC. This was an important initiative that contributed greatly to the British Library's digitisation of their historic newspapers. The British Library's newspaper collections are among the finest in the world, containing most of the runs of newspapers published in the UK since 1800. The scale of the newspaper publishing industry from the early 19th century onwards is enormous, with many cities and towns publishing several newspapers simultaneously, often aimed at distinct audiences depending on social status, geographical location and political affiliation. The first stage of their digitisation project focused on runs published before 1900 and titles from cities such as Birmingham, Derby, Manchester, Nottingham, Norwich, Leeds and York, along with local titles from London boroughs. Newspapers which aimed for county circulation - from Staffordshire to Sussex - also feature prominently, providing an unrivalled picture of provincial life spanning the whole of the 19th century. In terms of British Army nurses we can find many stories of 'local' nurses during wartime, as well as syndicated national stories. Many of the early news papers were 'broadsheets' and so if you print them on A4 paper they are virtually unreadable. When viewed on a computer screen you can then create an image large enough to read comfortably.

All searching is free on this site but it costs to view images in the viewer. (There are a number of free sample pages in the homepage timeline). There are both Subscription and Credit Packages available to best suit your needs. If you do not have a valid package you will be asked to purchase one before being allowed to view any images.

London Gazette

As the first official journal of record and the newspaper of the Crown, The Gazette is an authoritative and reliable source of news, of both the Crown and the Executive. The Gazette is famous for being the bearer of official War Office and Ministry of Defence events, including listing those 'Mentioned in Despatches' (MIDs), where notable individuals are recognised for their activities in the theatre of war. Indeed, The Gazette even ultimately produced its own terminology for those appearing in Gazette reports: whether when they were appointed to a new military post, or for committing acts of particular gallantry, an individual was said to have been 'gazetted' when their name reached the pages of The Gazette. In terms of British Army nurses you can find them 'Mentioned in Despatches'; awarded honours (for example, the Royal Red Cross); and you could find appointments to the QAIMNS prior to WW1. The London Gazette has a simple search interface, and you are able to freely print pages, or download them in pdf format.

The Scotsman

The Scotsman was launched as broadsheet newspaper in 1817 as a liberal weekly newspaper by lawyer William Ritchie and customs official Charles Maclaren in response to the "unblushing subservience" of competing newspapers to the Edinburgh establishment, and pledged to "impartiality, firmness and independence". The Scotsman is now a compact newspaper published from Edinburgh, by Johnston Press. All searching is free on this site but it costs to view images in the viewer. There are a number of Access Packages available to best suit your needs. If you do not have a valid package you will be asked to register with a valid email address and then purchase a Package before being able to view images.

The Spectator

For the first time, both scanned and digitised copies of the magazine from July 1828 to December 2008 can be browsed online using the beta Spectator Archive. The Spectator has run many stories about nurses. The technique used for digitising has left quite a few errors, but nonetheless there is a lot of interesting items here.

Using Newspapers

Although digitisation has made newspapers easier to search and use in our research, there are some factors we need to keep in mind when using them:

  • Assuming press opinion: As there are relatively few titles yet available it may be that the stories we find and use come primarily from a single source such as The Times. We should not, therefore, assume that what we have found is indicative of press opinion as a whole, and we should be aware of political and other biases inherent in all newspapers.
  • Keywords: Using a keyword search in newspaper archives can be difficult. The Optical Character Reading (OCR) systems used to convert the newspaper print into digital copy are now very sophisticated but there will still be words missed or converted incorrectly. Also, as with all historical archives, there may be a difference in the nuances of the language used, and so you may need to try a number of alternatives words to find what you want. The use of abbreviations also varies over time, so a search for QAIMNS might not find Q.A.I.M.N.S. for example.
  • Nature of newspapers: We have to remember that newspapers are written with an audience in mind and are not necessarily always factually correct. It is important to corroborate newspaper articles.

References

Bingham, A. (2010) The Digitization of Newspaper Archives: Opportunities and Challenges for Historians. Twentieth Century British History 21 (2): 225-231.