Dry As Dust

A Fortean in the Archives

Further adventures in the new digital Arcadia

Archives tend to be sedate places, usually, but of late they have been plunging online with such unrestrained abandon that even stuck-in-the-mud old hands like me have begun to feel a little giddy. It’s only a couple of weeks since my last update on newspaper and journal digitisation, and already there’s some significant news to be reported.

Most important, at least in its massive potential, is the appearance of a beta–test version of the long-touted Historic Australian Newspapers, from the National Library of Australia. This site, now freely available online, covers the period 1803-1954, and though only a tiny fraction of the planned holdings are currently available, it already looks extremely promising. Material from 26 papers is available, the titles ranging from the Melbourne Argus to the Perth Gazette and including no fewer than five from Hobart alone. It’s likely to develop rapidly from now on, too, with thousands of pages being digitised each month.

Over at the Daily Express archive, which until recently ran only from 2000-2008, about 180,000 new pages covering the period 1900-82 have been released, and the tabloid Sunday People (a venerable warhorse of the British newspaper scene, nowadays known simply The People) has gone online via NewsBank for the years 2000-present. NewsBank already hosts the increasingly useful America’s Historical Newspapers site (subscription or public library access required), featuring pages from well over a hundred newspapers covering the years 1690-1876. Its focus very usefully falls on the earliest days of the newspaper press (titles from 1690-1820 are heavily represented), and the one drawback of that is that coverage of any given title is practically always very spotty; thus far the only significant runs offered are those of the American Mercury of Hartford, CT (partial coverage of the years 1784-1829), the Connecticut Courant (ditto for 1764-1837), Baltimore Patriot (1828-34), New York's Commercial Advertiser (1797-1820), Daily Advertiser (1785-1809) and Evening Post (1801-21), the Charleston City Gazette (1787-1821) and Philadelphia’s Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser (1800-20).

Elsewhere on the net, the Internet Library of Early Journals, hosted by Oxford’s Bodleian Library, has been online for several years, focussing on 18th and 19th century literary and political journals. This site includes long runs of the Annual Register, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, The Gentleman’s Magazine, Notes & Queries and the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. A similar archive, Eighteenth Century Journals I, II and III: a portal to newspapers and periodicals c.1685-1815, is much less easily available (a visit to a major library is probably required), and lacks almost any search facility. Still, it’s an important collection that switches focus away from the better-known metropolitan journals and includes several dozen short runs of early colonial and regional newspapers and journals drawn mainly from the holdings of the Bodleian, Cambridge University Library and the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas. These include the Asiatic Mirror (Calcutta) 1793-98, the Edinburgh Bee, or Literary Weekly Intelligencer (1791-3), the Bombay Courier (1793-1815), the Britannic Magazine (1793-1807), Calcutta Gazette (1784-94), Dublin Chronicle (1787-92), The Examiner (1710-14)  India Gazette (1780-93), Mercurius Politicus (1716-20), and London’s Morning Advertiser (1794-97), Spirit of the Public Journals (1797-1825), St James’s Evening Post (1715-17) and Whitehall Evening Post (1754-66).

Potentially more useful, for Forteans at least, is the Nineteenth Century Serials Edition (NCSE) – a free online edition of six major 19th century periodicals which covers the Monthly Repository (1806-37), Unitarian Chronicle (1832-33), Northern Star (1838-52), Leader (1850-60), English Women’s Journal (1858-64), Tomahawk (1867-70) and Publisher’s Circular (1880-90). This site is equipped with a usable general search function. Also now online, in French, is the sober-sided Journal de Geneve - 550,000 pages covering the entire period from 1826-1998, with La Gazette de Lausanne and Le Nouveau Quotidien scheduled to follow. It's supposed to be freely available over the net, but a search has failed to reveal its actual location. In the meantime, the paper certainly is available via the British Library's digital newspaper portal, and no doubt via other academic libraries, too.

Finally, Papers Past, a digital collection of some 45 New Zealand newspapers published between 1839 and 1920, has been online for some time, but it is rapidly becoming significantly more user-friendly. The site was more or less unsearchable until recently – one had to browse individual issues manually. Now it offers a good search function that currently covers two-thirds of its titles.

Handy lists of other web-based newspaper archives can be found here and here.

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