History is Going Digital - Bringing Historical Newspapers Online
by Christina Appleworth
More and more Internet users will be able to access local, national and historical newspapers online as more and more papers are being digitised. With schemes like the British Library’s Newspaper Archive leading the way, and helped by partnerships with major search engines, older copies of papers can be used to provide access to the UK and world history. Some of the chief benefits of this access, with key titles including The Times and The Economist, as well as multiple local papers, will be the ability to more accurately search for and collate data than ever before.
Offering a contrast to the patience and time consuming nature of researching bound volumes and microfilm, online history through newspapers will be much easier to bring together, either through a limited paywall or free. With more and more archives becoming available, and becoming linked to major search engines and university access, a number of different groups stand to specifically benefit from the expansion of digital newspapers. From people completing historical projects to family histories and school use, and including the importance of preservation and archiving, the digital turn for newspapers has many key appeals:
1 - Historical Projects
Being able to access newspaper archives online, and being able to search through different papers and cross reference stories will represent a major time saving achievement for researchers. The ease of use, speed and quality of these searches will arguably help researchers to complete work remotely, cutting down the need for site visits and long waits for material to be released. Moreover, while much of the online papers being archived will be tied to paid subscriptions, university affiliation and links to search engines and academic databases will gradually help to spread costs.
2 - Teaching and Schools
The availability of many more primary sources will be a great resource for different schools and teaching projects. Particularly important will be the easier access to local papers, which will allow schools to draw on more detailed documents without having to make field trips to visit archives. The main benefits of this access will therefore be to widen the field of reference for schools willing to invest in the archives.
3 - Family Histories
The availability of newspaper archives also means that family and local historians will have much more content at their fingertips with which to research individuals and areas. Local newspapers, preserved in high quality digital copies, will be particularly useful in this regard, and should encourage a greater cross referencing and archiving of family trees, as well as photographs and particular stories.
4 - Preservation
Perhaps the key benefit of making newspapers available as a digital archive will be the better preservation of that archive. While many newspapers are being kept in excellent physical conditions, having a reliable and world class digital resource means that it will be much easier to avoid damage and losing files. While having the physical copies in storage will still be important, having data archives and back ups will help to strengthen the consistency of and wide access to archives.
Christina Appleworth, freelance copywriter and avid historian, is currently working along in partnership with Gale Cengage, a leading provider of innovative teaching, learning and research solutions for the academic, professional and library markets worldwide.