Featured Partner: The British Library

Every month we highlight one partner of the Europeana Newspapers Project. These articles will give you the ‘inside story’ about our partners, their specific role within the project and the various challenges that arise with the refinement and aggregation of historical newspapers. This month we feature the British Library

The British Library is a networking partner of the Europeana Newspapers Project, sharing best practice in evaluation, metadata requirements and usability of digitised historic newspapers. The Library will also host two key events in 2014 to promote Europeana Newspapers: an information day on June 9th and a policy-related workshop on September 29-30th.

The British Library. (Image by Xavier de Jauréguiberry, Flickr)
The British Library. (Image by Xavier de Jauréguiberry, Flickr)

The expertise that the British Library brings to the Europeana Newspapers Project is based on a long history of collecting, curating and making available historic  newspapers.

Illustrated Police News. Saturday, 12 January, 1867. ‘Burglary prevented by a dog’
Illustrated Police News. Saturday, 12 January, 1867. ‘Burglary prevented by a dog’

In total, the Library holds an estimated 750 million pages of newspapers and periodicals. This number grows continually. Each year, about 1,934 UK and Irish newspaper and weekly/fortnightly periodical titles, and 242 overseas titles are received.

British and Irish newspapers from before the 19th century are mainly drawn from two important special collections.

  1. The Thomason Tracts, a collection of printed pamphlets, books and newspapers related to the English Civil War. These were printed mainly in London between 1640 and 1661.
  2. The Burney Collection of English newspapers and news pamphlets, dating from 1603 to 1817.
The Graphic 22 March 1873, advertisement for Cadbury’s Cocoa
The Graphic 22 March 1873, advertisement for Cadbury’s Cocoa

In addition, the Library has comprehensive holdings of most post-19th century British and Irish newspapers, received under legal deposit since 1869.

Digitisation of the Library’s historic newspapers started back in 2001 and a significant number of titles published from the 17-19th century are now available online. The Library continues to digitise its newspapers collection thanks to its Public Private Partnership with brightsolid and currently about 7 million pages can be searched via the British Newspapers Archive. The Archive includes over 3 million pages of 18th-19th century British newspapers digitised by the Library before 2009, with funding from Jisc.

The Graphic. June 18, 1870. Chronicling the death of Charles Dickens
The Graphic. June 18, 1870. Chronicling the death of Charles Dickens

The Importance of Historic Newspapers
Newspapers support scholarly research in countless areas of the humanities, social science, and the sciences, and present a particularly valuable resource for historians, genealogists, those interested in journalism, trade and advertising, print history and the arts, as well as the general public. Especially attractive for researchers of the visual arts are the Library’s holdings of illustrated fashion periodicals and Victorian illustrated newspapers. These include The Graphic (1869-1932) and The Illustrated Police News (1867-1951).

The Newcastle Courant. Saturday, 4 July, 1724.
The Newcastle Courant. Saturday, 4 July, 1724.

Increasingly researchers are looking to apply new methodologies to large collections of digitised newspapers. For example the Spatial Humanities Project at the University of Lancaster is using automated language processing techniques and Geographic Information Systems analysis to process and interrogate text data from newspapers.

As part of this project, text data from the Library’s digitised newspaper collections will be analysed together with books, census and population data, to help researchers answer a range of place-related questions about 19th century society in England and Wales. Similar approaches and methodologies could be applied to the corpus of digitised newspapers that the Europeana Newspapers Project is creating.

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