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19th-Century British Newspapers Online: Excellent

October 25, 2007

Although I have a nice, clean set of organized links on the right, I can never regularly make it through them all. Yesterday, however, I checked out the Guardian’s education section and found this day-old story, titled “19th century newspapers go digital.”

This is awesome. Here are some excerpts with comment:

– “One million pages of text from 19th century publications went online last night as part of a British Library project to digitise its journals. The British Library Newspapers website, launched in partnership with the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), contains searchable text from 46 regional newspapers from around the UK, dating back to 1800.”
– “The online digital archive will be available free to lecturers and students in higher and further education institutions and to British Library visitors with reader passes, who can access it from the library’s reading rooms in London’s Kings Cross.”

TL: I doubt this means U.S. institutions will have “free” access.

– “The website, developed by Gale/Cengage Learning – the world’s largest publisher of reference databases and digital collections – over the past three years, will allow users to search through material previously only available in hard-copy form or through microform or CD-Roms in the library archive in Colindale, north London.”

TL: But this is an U.S.-based company, I believe. Hmm…

– “The journals available online have been chosen by a team of experts and academics, and include regional publications from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and specialist titles.”

TL: I wonder how many U.S. academics were involved?

– “Launching the archive last night, Sir Colin Lucas, chairman of the British Library, said: ‘Traditionally, access to these newspapers has meant you get a newspaper on to a desk and turn each page, which can be laborious and has the risk you may miss something. If you are an old historian like me, that’s the great pleasure in it. But nowadays, people need the kind of search engine that will throw up 150,000 references to steam ships.’ He added that a major reason for digitising the archive was to find a long-term way of preserving journals.”

TL: For U.S. historians, tradition would’ve also meant a minimum $1000 round-trip flight to Britain. But on another note, apparently Sir Colin Lucas is not fully aware of all the problems of digitization (i.e. consistent long-term formatting rules).

– “The initial one million pages, funded by £1m from the JISC, is the first phase of the library’s digital archive project. More pages from the 19th century journals will be added over the coming months. The library also has plans to digitise 18th and 17th century publications, and has secured an additional £1m from JISC to help cover costs.”

Anyway, exciting stuff. I wish I had recourse to this resource in researching the early, trans-Atlantic part of my dissertation. – TL

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