10 June 2022
Meet the Curators: A News-themed Session – 23 June 2022
Exploring five centuries of UK news through broadsheets, blogs and objects, the British Library’s current exhibition, Breaking the News, challenges and seeks to change the way we think about news.
A poster advertising the University of Poznań Solidarity journal Serwis Informacyjny Komisji Zakładowej NSZZ «Solidarność» przy UAM w Poznaniu. BL shelf mark Sol. 764
Looking beyond the UK focus of Breaking the News, on Thursday 23 June curators from the European, Americas and Oceania collections will be in conversation about items from their collection areas that speak to the themes of the exhibition and that they think deserve a spotlight. Join us for a friendly look behind the curating scenes as we discover unique collection items that illuminate news and the role it plays in our lives.
This free, online event will take place on Thursday 23 June 2022, 12.30 – 1.30pm. To register, please visit the Library’s event page. Bookers will be sent a Zoom link in advance giving access.
This session is run in partnership with the Library’s Asia and Africa department, whose parallel event takes place on Thursday 16th June 2022.
27 May 2022
‘Breaking the News’: Tajny Detektyw – crimes and sensationalism in interwar Poland
On Sunday 23 August 1931 the front page of Tajny Detektyw (‘Undercover Detective’), a Polish weekly tabloid, featured a photograph of a beautiful woman ominously titled ‘Iga’s Tragedy’. The paper ran a story on a popular Warsaw dancer Iga Korczyńska shot and killed by her former fiancé Zacharjasz Drożyński. The story appealed to masses easily fascinated by classic tropes of love, high-life, obsession, adultery and crime. This was only one of many juicy articles that Tajny Detektyw chose to print that day.
Front page of Tajny Detektyw, no. 32 featuring Iga Korczyńska (Kraków, 1931) BL shelf mark RF.201.b.79
Extract from the article ‘Tragedja Igi’ in Tajny Detektyw, no. 32 (Kraków, 1931)
The newspaper was one of the most sensationalist titles in interwar Poland and made quite a name for itself. The weekly newspaper’s circulation of 100,000 used to sell out almost immediately. The title was owned by a Polish entrepreneur and publisher, the biggest and the most influential press magnate of the Second Polish Republic, Marian Dąbrowski.
Tajny Detektyw’s creators had an ambition for the newspaper to become something more than a regular penny paper. The periodical’s intricate graphic design was conceived and executed by Janusz Maria Brzeski a modernist artist, photographer and an avant-garde filmmaker headhunted by Dąbrowski. With determination not to be another ‘penny blood’ Tajny Detektyw’s publishers claimed that the paper’s mission was to ‘fight crime’.
United under this banner the periodical’s journalists did not shy away from any subject. They ventured deep into the realms of social pathology, murder, burglary and rape. They published gruesome stories and were uncompromising in the choice of protagonists that ranged from petty criminals, through corrupt civil servants to crooked judges and police officers. While the featured stories were grisly, their linguistic side had a certain poetic and literary quality to it. However, the newspaper quickly was blacklisted by various organisations, the Catholic Church amongst them. The paper was criticised for doing the exact opposite of what its mission was supposed to be – it was accused of propagating crime and corrupting public morals.
‘W sidłach sekty satanistów’ – ‘In the Clutches of the Satanic Cult’, gory details of a mysterious death in Warsaw. Front page of Tajny Detektyw, no. 25 (Kraków, 1934)
‘Zbrodnia nad Prutem’ – ‘Crime by the Prut’: members of the local authorities and police officers photographed over the body of a victim of an unknown perpetrator. Back page of Tajny Detektyw, no. 37 (Kraków, 1932)
Tajny Detektyw’s graphic designer, Maria Brzeski, favoured collages in his artistic practice. Under his guidance the newspaper produced many exquisite examples of this technique such as this front page of Tajny Detektyw, no. 48 (Kraków, 1931)
It was rumoured that some criminals treated Tajny Detektyw as their training manual. In the end, Dąbrowski was forced to close down the title in 1934. It was a widely-discussed criminal trial of a married couple, Jan and Maria Malisz, that became the final nail in Tajny Detektyw’s coffin. The couple, a painter and his wife, committed a burglary resulting in a double homicide and bodily harm. The scandal and the court proceedings not only exposed the brutal reality of societal poverty in the Polish Second Republic and shed the light on desperation of those struggling for survival, but also became Dąbrowski’s newspaper damnation (see Stanisław Salomonowicz’s book, Pitaval krakowski (Kraków 2010) YF.2014.a.27456 ). Jan and Maria Malisz testified that their deed was inspired by an article in Tajny Detektyw describing a murder of a postman committed in Toruń. The couple thought that they could improve on the already existing scenario. Although, the plan backfired, they instead succeeded in finishing off the most popular criminal chronicle of its time of the social life of the Polish Second Republic. After a turbulent public discussion the newspaper was finally closed down.
‘Strzały w Hotelu Carlton’ – ‘Shots at Carlton Hotel’, one of the articles from the newspaper targeted at readers hungry for juicy gossip from abroad. Pages from Tajny Detektyw, no. 30 (Kraków, 1931)
‘Breaking the News’, a current exhibition at the British Library, offers more insight into ways that public opinions and beliefs influence the news and vice versa, including the ways in which scandal and violent crime are depicted. Visit the British Library website to learn more.
Olga Topol, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections
09 August 2018
East European newspapers in the British Library collection
The rapid growth of the British Museum Library from the 1840s onwards brought about the expansion of its collections of foreign material. Books, journals and newspapers in East European languages were also regularly acquired, initiating the future development of the individual countries’ collections. Newspapers, though relatively small in numbers of titles, constituted a vital part of them. The Catalogue of the Newspaper Library, Colindale (London, 1975; HLR.011.35; all records are now also available in our online catalogue) records numerous 19th-century papers from around the world. Among them the oldest titles in East European languages are:
Russkii invalid (St Petersburg, 1813-1917; NEWS13712) a paper of the Russian military.
Dostrzegacz nadwiślański / Der Beobakhter an der Vayksel (Warsaw, 1823-4; NEWS15170). A bilingual Polish and Yiddish weekly, the first Jewish journal published in Poland. Only 44 issues appeared, of which the BL holds three copies for February 1824.
In 1932 the Newspaper Library was established in Colindale and overseas titles were moved there from the British Museum building. Eastern European newspapers were part of this process. In the 1950s there were 74 titles in Slavonic and East European languages acquired annually by the Library. In 2014 a new reading room for all forms of news media opened in the St Pancras building, where these titles can now be consulted.
Political, social and economic transformations in Central and Eastern Europe following the revolutionary wave of 1989 had a huge impact on the publishing industry. Such phenomena as the free market economy, freedom of expression and the rapidly growing political movements, all new to Eastern Europe, also greatly influenced the newspaper output, giving rise to many new titles or title changes. In the early 1990s there was an explosion in the number of papers published, and at its peak the British Library was receiving about 300 titles per year. Many were short-lived and produced only one or two editions. In such chaos it became necessary to get an overall picture of the situation, especially since other UK libraries experienced a similar influx of newspapers. A Union List of Slavonic and East European newspapers in British libraries (YC.2018.b.1946), which was put together in 1992, aimed to provide information about the availability of any particular title in the UK libraries. It should be noted that there were no online library catalogues at the time, so the printed list was the most effective way of communicating.
The collection of newspapers for this period represents the whole spectrum of political colours, social movements and cultural diversity in Eastern European countries. Examples include:
Respekt (LOU.F631G) began publication in November 1989 as one of the first independent journals in Czechoslovakia. It was a pro-Havel liberal weekly reporting on domestic and foreign political and economic issues with a focus on investigative journalism. It is still running.
Spotkania (NEWS13748) attempted to act as the Polish Newsweek and aimed to be an informative paper with no political bias; it lasted only from 1991 to 1993. BL holds 93 issues for the years 1991-2.
The Warsaw Voice (NEWS3057) is an English-language newspaper published in Poland, providing news on Poland and neighbouring countries with the focus on business and the economy. First published in 1988, it is still running; our holdings include the years 1992–2017.
Oslobođenje (LOU.F710D) is the oldest daily newspaper in Bosnia, which began in 1943. The paper received many international awards for continuous publication throughout the 1992–95 siege of Sarajevo. During the war, the editorial board consisted of Bosniaks, Bosnian Serbs, and Bosnian Croats, reflecting the multi-ethnic society of Bosnia.
At present our collection includes newspapers held in print form, as microfilm and in digital copies. With hard copies and microfilms creating storage and preservation problems, the policy of the Library is to subscribe to aggregated newspaper databases or link to online resources. We currently still receive 17 newspaper titles in print from Lithuania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Romania and recently Poland. A number of Russian, Ukrainian, Moldavian, Belarusian and Baltic newspapers are available online through the commercial supplier Eastview, but currently there is no newspaper coverage for the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Albania, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia and Macedonia, mainly because of distribution problems and a lack of aggregated databases.
Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections
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