Friday, 13 April 2012

British Newspaper Archive

Although the November 2011 press release for the British Newspaper Archive focussed on the nineteenth-century content, the collection covers many regional newspapers with runs from the eighteenth century.

A search for "news" gets hits from the twenty journals up to 1800 (the five with an * are from pre-1750)

Aberdeen Journal
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette
Birmingham Gazette*
Bristol Mercury
Caledonian Mercury*
Chelmsford Chronicle
Derby Mercury*
Hampshire Chronicle
Hereford Journal
Ipswich Journal*
Kentish Gazette
Leeds Intelligencer
Manchester Mercury
Newcastle Courant*
Norfolk Chronicle
Northampton Mercury
Oxford Journal
Reading Mercury
Sherborne Mercury
Sussex Advertiser

There is a long review of the archive here, so I won't waste time on a lengthy explanation of how the archive works etc. And since I have only been able to do a small number of searches, I don't have the experience to undertake a longer review anyway. However, I have had a look at the Archive and from the searches I have been able to do I am keen to have better access.

Since Monash does not have access to the Archive (yet!) I registered and was given enough free points to see the results of a few searches. Doing this gives you thirty points. And since it costs five points to look at (and download) a page: I was able to look at six of the hits from my searches. For reasons I'll explain in a moment, this was not enough, so I registered using a second email address for another thirty points.

The few searches I was able to do for authors and titles enabled me to find advertisements for works in regional papers that will be useful for my Bibliography of Eliza Haywood, my Checklist Database of Eighteenth-Century Erotica, and for a handful of articles I am working on.

A few examples of what I found will show how similar (and similarly useful) the Archive is compared to the Burney database, ECCO etc.

The London advertisements for Haywood's Female Spectator indicated an increasingly-wide circle of distribution. The earliest advertisements for individual Books mention only Thomas Gardner as publisher with the statement "and sold by all Booksellers in Town and Country." Later advertisements add R. Dodsley, J. Robinson, M. Cooper and Mrs. Dodd to this general statement ("all Booksellers in Town and Country") but in the end the advertisements claimed all "Booksellers of Great-Britain and Ireland." While I reported these imprint-claims in my BibliographyI was not able to specify, as I now can, that The Female Spectator was advertised in the Newcastle Courant of 9 August 1746 as being available from Jer. Roe in Derby and J. White in Newcastle. Undoubtedly, further searches will turn up even more sellers.

Another interesting find concerns Haywood's obituary, which was published in The Whitehall Evening Post on 26 February 1756, and was repeated in The Public Advertiser (27 February), London Evening-Post (28 February) and The Scots Magazine 18 (February 1756). Now, it seems, it was also printed in the Derby Mercury on 27 February and the Leeds Intelligencer on 2 March. I am not sure how typical this reporting of obits was, so I am not sure what—if anything—this tells us about Haywood's reputation outside of London.

But to return to the Archive: These are the three issues that stopped me doing a wider/more detailed search:

[1] searches do not always identify the exact page a passage appears on: only the section it is in (like "News" or "Advertisements"; and if that section runs over multiple pages your "hit" may be on any one of three or four pages). But, if you download your "find" you only get to download the page you are looking at—not the section. So, you have to find the right page before downloading your "hit"—otherwise you might download, say, page 3, when your hit is on page 4. (I didn't realise this at first, because many of my first hits were on a single page.)

[2] it is often difficult (and in some cases impossible) to find the passage you are searching for (your hit) because there is no (or limited) "hit-term highlighting". In one case I spent twenty minutes looking in vain for an advertisement. In desperation, when I decided to go through the entire issue of the newspaper, I discovered that I had blown my last remaining credit because—by wandering from the section the hit was supposed to be in—I had been charged another five points for what was deemed to be a new search/find. (In this case, the advertisements were on pages 1, 3 and 4: since the advertisement was not on these pages I looked at page 2—and was charged another five points to do so.)

[3] my browsers (Safari and Firefox) crashed regularly because the interface uses Flash. Every time I relaunched my browser and returned to the page image I had been looking at (usually, one I was in the process of actually downloading) I would be docked another five points. (That is, you crash, your session ends, and when you return, this is deemed to be a new session and a—therefore—a new search/find.)

When I get a chance I will repeat some of these searches on a newer computer. Meanwhile I will recommend that Monash adds this database to their arsenal: like the Burney collection, ECCO, NCCO etc it is hard to see how any researcher can keep abreast with leading scholarship without access to these text-bases.

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