20 September 2021
On 24 September 1621, London printer Nathaniel Butter published a newspaper. It wasn’t called a newspaper, but there were sufficient elements that we recognise as those which make a newspaper. It had reports on a number of news stories, all of them current. It was published on a specific date. It was one a series of news publications with the same title (or approximately so), introducing a pattern. The title appeared at the top of the sheet: Corante, or, newes from Italy, Germany, Hungarie, Spaine and France.
Front page of Corante, or, newes from Italy, Germany, Hungarie, Spaine and France, published 24 September 1621
As with all first, the first British newspaper needs to come with qualifications and caveats. It was not the first newspaper published in English, as English language newspapers, or corantos, had been published in Amsterdam since at least December 1620. It may have been preceded by corantos published in 1621 by London printer Thomas Archer, but those do not survive. Although published in London, in English, it was effectively a translation from a Dutch original, as were the earlier news publications. It was not the only type of news publication available, as single-story newssheets had long existed before this date, and manuscript news service were available to subscribers, but it was irrefutably something new. It established the rhythm of public news in Britain.
There is advice from Naples, that certain Ambassadours of Messina are arrived there and from thence are to go to Spaine, to congratulate the king and to give him a present of 150000 crownes, as also that in Naples a contention falling out between the Spaniards and Neopolitans, there were many on both sides slaine and wounded, so that if the Cardinall the Vice Roy had not stept in among them, there would have been a great slaughter.
By letters of the 21 from Genoa it is certified that Petro de Liena is arrived there with two galleys from Spaine, and that the rest stay still at Vado.
There are 8000 men of Moravia, Bohemia and many souldiers of Sylesia gathered together in Marble, that are to go withal speede to releeve Presburge.
The Earl of Colalto, 8 dayes since, meeting with the Hungarians that came to Newstadt, and there in the suburbs took certain children and carreyed them prisoners, whereof some of them were Turkes.
Not that the first British newspaper had anything to say on its two sides on the one sheet of paper about news in Britain. Aside from being a translation from Dutch publications, it was far too dangerous to challenge the British authorities by publishing news about what was happening at home. Instead, the Corante, or, newes from Italy, Germany, Hungarie, Spaine and France told its readership about what was going on in Europe, with particular focus on the Thirty Years War. This was important news for the merchants and officials who were likely reader of the publication – it affected their business, it was a general topic of conversation, it was news for them.
Bottom of other side of Corante, or, newes from Italy, Germany, Hungarie, Spaine and France, showing publication details with date, 24 September 1621
This first surviving first British newspaper is held by the British Library. On 23 September 2021 we are hosting an event to mark this quatercententary. Old News, New Perspectives: 400 years of Newspapers will look at the origins of newspapers and the transformative growth of news in this country ever since. Its special guest speakers will be Matthew Shaw, formerly of the British Library and now Librarian at The Queen’s College, Oxford, author of the recently-published An Inky Business: A History of Newspapers from the English Civil Wars to the American Civil War; and the Times columnist and former MP Matthew Parris, who in 2015 won the British Press Award for Political Journalist of the Year. The event will be introduced by Chief Librarian Liz Jolly.
Details of the event can be found here: https://www.bl.uk/events/old-news-new-perspectives-400-years-of-newspapers
09 August 2021
We are delighted to be announcing a major development for newspapers digitised from the British Library’s collection. From today, one million pages on the British Newspaper Archive site have become free to view, so not requiring any subscription payment. These one million pages will be followed by one million more each year for the next four years, creating a substantial free historical newspaper resource which should greatly expand the use of and understanding of historical newspapers.
Special 'golden' issue of The Sun, 28 June 1838, marking the coronation of Queen Victoria
This has been made possible through a new partnership agreement between the British Library and Findmypast, the family history company which manages the British Newspaper Archive. The BNA has over 44 million newspaper pages, mostly British and Irish titles, ranging from 1699 to 2009, or just under 10 per cent of all newspapers held by the British Library. The BNA is a subscription site, the payment made by users helping to digitise and preserve yet more newspapers.
The Colored News, 15 September 1855
It has long been the goal of the British Library to make some of its digitised newspapers freely available online, but we also want to see the BNA succeed as it has been doing, without which we could not have reached such a huge collection overall of digitised newspapers, nor the rate at which they are being produced (currently around half a million pages are being added to the BNA every month).
The ‘free to view’ solution keeps the successful model in place, while making a significant and varied selection of titles freely available to all, to view and to download, without charge. There are 158 titles on offer, ranging from 1720 to 1880. The latter date is significant. All of the newspapers that make up the ‘free to view’ offer are out-of-copyright. The British Library keeps to a ‘safe date’ when determining when a newspaper can be considered to be entirely out-of-copyright, which is 140 years after the date of publication.
The newspapers selected come from four British Library projects, plus some selected by Findmypast themselves.
- 19th Century Newspapers was a project funded by the Joint Information Systems. Committee over 2004-09, our first major newspaper digitisation programme
- Heritage Made Digital newspapers is an ongoing digitisation project focussing on newspapers in a poor or unfit condition
- Living with Machines is an ongoing research project, jointly led by the British Library and the Alan Turing Institute, which has been digitising selected UK regional newspapers as part of a major study of the British industrial age, using artificial intelligence tools to undertake new kinds of historical enquiry.
- The Endangered Archives Programme facilitates the digitisation of archives around the world that are in danger of destruction, neglect or physical deterioration
Barbados newspaper The Barbadian, 1 January 1827
So, what is on offer? The full list of titles is given below, but these are some of particular interest:
- The Barbadian (1822-1861) - covers the transition of Barbados from the colonial, pre-modern to the modern era, including the Emancipation (1834), and the end of the apprenticeship system (1838)
- The British Emancipator (1837-1840) - anti-slavery newspaper which fought for the abolition of the system of apprenticeship, which was put into place after slavery was abolished in the British Colonies
- British Miner and General Newsman (1862-1867) – journal devoted to working miners, which went through a number of titles including The Miner, The Workman’s Advocate and The Commonwealth
- Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register (1803-1836) – famous and hugely influential vehicle for the ideas and opinions of the great nineteenth-century radical William Cobbett
- The Examiner (1808-1880) – leading radical weekly, edited by Leigh Hunt, with contributors including William Hazlitt, John Keats and Percy Shelley
- Illustrated Sporting and Theatrical News (1862-1870) - lively newspaper covering a wide range of sports and theatrical events, with many fine illustrations
- The Jamaica Mercury and Kingston Weekly Advertiser (1779-1840) – West Indies newspaper notorious for its slavery advertisements, later known as The Royal Gazette of Jamaica
- The Lady’s Newspaper and Pictorial Times (1847-1863) - one of the earliest newspapers produced for an exclusively female audience
- Morning Herald (1800-1869) – founded on 1780, a national daily that for a number of years rivalled The Times in importance
- The Poor Man’s Guardian (1831-1835) - the most successful and influential of the radical unstamped (and thus illegal) newspapers of the early 1830s
- The Sun (1801-1871) – a daily evening national newspaper, founded in 1792, originally with pro-government and anti-French revolutionary stance, before changing to advocate liberal and free trade principles
There a few things to note about the free to view service. Users will still need to sign up with the British Newspaper Archive to be able to access them, though no charge will be made for their use. The fact that we consider newspapers made before 1881 to be in the public domain does not mean that we can make all pre-1881 digitised titles available for free – the BNA is dependent on subscriptions to maintain the considerable effort required to sustain it, and the one million pages per year arrangement is intended to protect that model.
We will be adding more free-to-view titles over the next four years at least, but we cannot say as yet what those titles will be. However, we are aware that the current list has a bias towards London/national titles and the north of London and will be rectifying the geographical imbalance in subsequent free-to-view releases.
Radical 'unstamped' newspaper The Poor Man's Guardian newspaper with its famous motto 'Knowledge is Power', from 23 July 1831
We hope that this is the start of a significant change in the study of British newspapers, and the study of so many topics as reported in those newspapers. Our list includes newspapers that are of established importance in understanding the nineteenth century, but also titles that currently do not feature as strongly as they might in research. Digitisation should not only make the familiar more readily available, but bring to new life the unfamiliar. There is so much to be discovered here, and much more to follow.
More information on discovering and using the 'free to view' titles is available on the British Newspaper Archive at https://blog.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/2021/08/09/introducing-free-to-view-pages-on-the-british-newspaper-archive.
See also a blog post on the Alan Turing Institute's Living with Machines project: https://livingwithmachines.ac.uk/sharing-the-benefits-free-to-view-newspapers-on-the-british-newspaper-archive/
People reading newspapers in the Crystal Palace Reading Room, London, from The Lady's Newspaper, 24 March 1855
List of titles
Below is a complete listing of all newspaper titles on the initial ‘free to view’ list of one million pages, including changes of title. Start and end dates are for what is being made freely available, not necessarily the complete run of the newspaper. For a few titles there are some missing issues for the dates given. A PDF copy of the list is available here: Download Free to view British Library newspapers list 9 August 2021.
The Age (1825-1843)
Alston Herald, and East Cumberland Advertiser (1875-1879)
The Argus, or, Broad-sheet of the Empire (1839-1843)
The Atherstone Times (1879-1879), The Atherstone, Nuneaton, and Warwickshire Times (1879-1879)
Baldwin's London Weekly Journal (1803-1836)
The Barbadian (1822-1861)
Barbados Mercury (1783-1789), Barbados Mercury, and Bridge-town Gazette (1807-1848)
The Barrow Herald and Furness Advertiser (1863-1879)
The Beacon (Edinburgh) (1821-1821)
The Beacon (London) (1822-1822)
The Bee-Hive (1862-1870), The Penny Bee-Hive (1870-1870), The Bee-Hive (1870-1876), Industrial Review, Social and Political (1877-1878)
The Birkenhead News and Wirral General Advertiser (1878-1879)
The Blackpool Herald (1874-1879)
Blandford, Wimborne and Poole Telegram (1874-1879), The Blandford and Wimbourne Telegram (1879-1879)
Bridlington and Quay Gazette (1877-1877)
Bridport, Beaminster, and Lyme Regis Telegram and Dorset, Somerset, and Devon Advertiser (1865, 1877-1879)
Brighouse & Rastrick Gazette (1879-1879)
The Brighton Patriot, and Lewes Free Press (1835-1836), Brighton Patriot and South of England Free Press (1836-1839)
The British Emancipator (1837-1840)
The British Liberator (1833-1833)
The British Luminary; or, Weekly News and General Advertiser (1818-1818), The British Luminary and National Intelligencer (1818-1818), The British Luminary and Weekly Intelligence (1818-1820), The British Luminary, or Weekly Intelligencer (1820-1820), The Weekly Intelligencer, and British Luminary (1820-1821), The British Luminary and Weekly Intelligencer (1821-1823)
British Miner and General Newsman (1862-1863), The Miner (1863-1863), The Miner and Workman's Advocate (1863-1865), The Workman's Advocate (1865-1866), The Commonwealth (1866-1867)
The British Press; or, Morning Literary Advertiser (1803-1826)
Caledonian Mercury (1720-1799), Caledonian Mercury (1800-1859), The Caledonian Mercury and Daily Express (1859-1860), The Caledonian Mercury (1860-1867)
The Cannock Chase Examiner (1874-1877)
The Central Glamorgan Gazette, and General, Commercial, and Agricultural Advertiser (1866-1879)
Champion (1836-1836), The Champion and Weekly Herald (1836-1840)
The Charter (1839-1840)
Chartist Circular (1839-1841)
Cleave's Weekly Police Gazette (1835-1836), Cleave's Weekly Police Gazette and Journal of News, Politics, and Literature (1836-1836)
Cobbett's Annual Register (1802-1804), Cobbett's Weekly Political Register (1804-1836)
Colored News (1855-1855)
Cradley Heath & Stourbridge Observer (1864-1864), The Observer, Cradley Heath, Halesowen & District Chronicle (1864-1866), The Stourbridge Observer, Cradley Heath, Halesowen & District Chronicle (1866-1879)
The Darlington & Stockton Telegraph, Richmond Herald, South Durham and North York Review (1870-1870), Darlington & Richmond Herald (1873-1874)
Denton, Haughton, & District Weekly News, The (1873-1874), Denton & Haughton Weekly News, and Audenshaw, Hooley Hill, and Dukinfield Advertiser (1874-1875), Denton Examiner, Audenshaw, Hooley Hill and Dukinfield Advertiser (1875-1878), Denton and Haughton Examiner (1878-1879)
The Dewsbury Chronicle, and West Riding Advertiser (1872-1875)
The Dorset County Express and Agricultural Gazette (1858-1879)
The Examiner (1808-1880)
The Express (1846-1869)
The Forest of Dean Examiner (1875-1877)
The Glasgow Chronicle (1844-1857)
Glasgow Courier (1802, 1844-1866)
Illustrated Sporting News and Theatrical and Musical Review (Illustrated Sporting News, Theatrical Review (1862-1865), Illustrated Sporting and Theatrical News (1865-1870)
The Imperial Weekly Gazette (1808-1810), The Imperial Weekly Gazette and Westminster Journal (1818-1823), Imperial Gazette (1823-1825)
The Jamaica Mercury and Kingston Weekly Advertiser (1779-1780), The Royal Gazette (1780-1836), The Royal Gazette and Jamaica Times (1838-1840), The Royal Gazette of Jamaica (1840-1840)
Jewish Record (1868-1871)
The Kenilworth Advertiser (1872-1879)
The Lady's Newspaper and Pictorial Times (1847-1863)
The Lady's Own Paper (1866-1872)
The Lancaster Herald, and Town and County Advertiser (1831-1832)
The Liverpool Standard and General Commercial Advertiser (1832-1854), Liverpool Standard and General Advertiser (1854-1855), Liverpool Standard and General Commercial Advertiser (1855-1856)
Liverpool Weekly Courier (1867-1879)
Lloyd's Companion to the "Penny Sunday Times and Peoples' Police Gazette" (1841-1847)
London Dispatch and People's Political and Social Reformer (1836-1839)
The Manchester Examiner (1848-1848)
Manchester Times (1828-1829), The Manchester Times and Gazette (1829-1848), Manchester Times and Manchester and Salford Advertiser and Chronicle (1848-1848)
The Midland Examiner and Times (1877-1877), The Midland Examiner and Wolverhampton Times (1877-1878)
Mirror of the Times (1800-1823)
The Morning Chronicle (1801-1865)
Morning Herald (1801-1869)
The National Register (1808-1823)
The New Weekly True Sun (1836-1836)
The News (1805-1835), The News and Sunday Herald (1835-1837), The News and Sunday Globe (1837-1839)
The Northern Daily Times (1853-1857), Northern Times (1857-1860), The Daily Times (1860-1861)
The Northern Liberator (1837-1840), The Northern Liberator and Champion (1840-1840)
Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser (1838-1844), The Northern Star and National Trades' Journal (1844-1852), The Star and National Trades' Journal (1852-1852), The Star of Freedom (1852-1852)
The Nuneaton Times (1878-1879)
The Odd Fellow (1839-1842)
The Operative (1838-1839)
Pictorial Times (1843-1848)
Pierce Egan's Life in London (1824-1827)
The Pontypridd District Herald and Rhondda Valley, Llantrisant, Caerphilly, and Mountain Ash News (1878-1879)
The Poole Telegram (1879-1879)
The Poor Man's Guardian (1831-1835)
The Potteries Examiner (1871-1879)
The Press (1853-1866)
Runcorn and Widnes Examiner (1870-1876), Runcorn Examiner (1877-1879)
The St. Helens Examiner, and Prescot Weekly News (1879-1879)
The Saint James's Chronicle (1801-1866)
Shropshire Examiner and all round the Wrekin Advertiser (1874-1877)
The South Staffordshire Examiner (1874-1874)
The Southern Star and London and Brighton Patriot (1840-1840)
Stalybridge Examiner, and Ashton, Dukinfield and Mossley Advertiser (1876-1876)
The Star (1801-1831)
The Statesman (1806-1824)
The Stockton Examiner, and South Durham and North Yorkshire Herald (1879-1879)
Stockton Gazette and Middlesbrough Times (1860-1865), Middlesbro' & Stockton Gazette and General Advertiser (1868-1868), The Middlesbrough Gazette and General Advertiser (1869-1869), Middlesbrough & Stockton Gazette and General Advertiser (1869-1876), The Weekly Gazette for Middlesbrough, Stockton, Hartlepool and Cleveland District (1876-1879)
Stockton Herald, South Durham and Cleveland Advertiser (1858-1879)
Stretford and Urmston Examiner (1879-1879)
The Sun (1801-1871)
Swansea and Glamorgan Herald, and South Wales Free Press (1847-1879)
The Tamworth Miners' Examiner and Working Men's Journal (1873-1873), The Tamworth Examiner and Working Men's Journal (1873-1876)
The Warrington Examiner (1885-1878), The Warrington & Mid-Cheshire Examiner (1879-1879)
The Weekly Chronicle (1836-1851), The Weekly News and Chronicle (1851-1854), The Weekly Chronicle (1855-1855), The Weekly Chronicle and Register (1855-1864), The Weekly Chronicle and Register of Banking, Insurance, Railway and Mining Companies, Trade and Commerce (1864-1867)
Westminster Journal and Old British Spy (1805-1810)
The Weymouth, Portland and Dorchester Telegram (1862-1878)
Widnes Examiner (1876-1879)
Wolverhampton Times and Bilston, Willenhall, Wednesfield, and Sedgley Journal (1874-1875), The Wolverhampton and Midland Counties Advertiser (1875-1876)
24 May 2021
We are very pleased to be able to announce that the British Library and family history website Findmypast have extended their partnership operation of the British Newspaper Archive.
British Newspaper Archive
The BNA was originally launched in 2011, with the aim of digitising newspapers from the British Library's collection, making these available on the website, and delivering a digital preservation copy back to the British Library. An ambitious goal of 40 million pages was set for the ten-year arrangement, one which has now been reached.
The archive features four centuries of newspapers (currently 1699-2009), regional, national and international, digitised from both print and microfilm holdings. The advantage of the digital archive is not just the increase in access, but the long-term protection it guarantees for the fragile print newspapers themselves, as the handling of them becomes greatly reduced.
The BNA is aimed primarily at family history researchers, to whom it has been of huge benefit, but it has also attracted many academic researchers, becoming an essential reference source for almost any modern history topic. The regular flow of new content (currently around 400,000 pages are added to the site every month), makes the return visit essential, whatever your discipline. If the answer is not there today, it could well be tomorrow.
The extension of the partnership will mean a further fourteen million pages will be added to the BNA over the next three years. The BNA is a subscription site, but also promised is that one million pages to be made free-to-access each year. The launch date for this development can't be announced as yet, nor the titles that will feature, but they will all be out-of-copyright and therefore from the late nineteenth century and earlier. We are expecting this to have a major effect on how our digitised newspapers are used, and who uses them.
This free offer comes from plans being developed at the British Library to open up our news collections where we can. Complementing the free access to selected newspapers on the BNA will be open datasets on our Research Repository, presenting the digitised texts alone in a form that will benefit the new generation of researchers interested in 'big data', enabling them to seek new answers to old questions, and to tackle new questions that we had not been able to ask before now.
Much has changed in the world of newspaper research over the past ten years. There will all the more change in the next three years, as digitisation continues to have an immense impact on how we care for, present, and understand our historical news archives.
British Library press release: https://www.bl.uk/press-releases/2021/may/british-library-and-findmypast-announce-renewal-of-long-term-partnership
Findmypast press release: https://www.findmypast.co.uk/blog/new/british-library-renewal
24 March 2021
We're delighted to be announcing with Edge Hill University the availability of a fully funded Collaborative Doctoral Studentship from 1 October 2021 under the AHRC’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Scheme.
A selection of short-lived British nineteenth-century newspaper titles
The theme is entitled Short-lived Newspapers: Reassessing Success and Failure in the 19th Century Press, and the studentship will focus on a significant but largely neglected part of nineteenth-century British newspaper history - the newspaper that did not last very long. History tends to be written by the winners, and newspaper history tends to focus on those newspaper that lasted for a good period of time and had a significant. This in tur influences decisions on what gets studied, digitised and made most readily available.
At times as much as half of British newspaper titles 1800-1900 lasted for less than five years, and they weren't all 'failures'. Some covered niche topics and were not intended to last long; some were part of a particular business strategy in which a publisher might produce several titles and see which one succeeded; some merged with other titles; some are just mysteries. Even when they were judged failures, that is interesting, because no newspaper ever set out with the expectation of failing. The failures look so much like the successes, bar their duration. Whatever the reasons, this is a history ripe for investigation.
The project will have at its core around 200 newspaper titles that we have been digitising as part of the British Library's Heritage Made Digital programme. It will be jointly supervised by Dr Bob Nicholson and Dr Andrew McInnes at Edge Hill University and by Dr Luke McKernan and Dr Elizabeth Gaskell at the British Library. The student will spend time with both Edge Hill University and the British Library, where there will be the opportunity to gain a deep knowledge of the Library's newspaper collections, both their physical care and digitisation procedures.
Information on the project and an application form can be found on the Edge Hill University site. The deadline for applications is 1 June 2021 at 13:00.
12 November 2020
We are delighted to announce an invitation for academics at UK universities and Higher Education Institutions to collaborate with the British Library on jointly supervised PhD studentships funded through the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships scheme. The Library is seeking proposals for two PhD projects, to start in October 2021, one of which will be based on our nineteenth-century newspaper collections.
The Royal York newspaper ran for nineteen issues May-September 1827
While digitising poor condition London-based nineteenth-century newspapers for the Heritage Made Digital Newspapers project, we became intrigued by the large number of relatively short-lived newspaper titles that fitted within our digitisation criteria, of which so little was known. Newspaper history, and consequently digitisation policy, tends towards the more successful titles that had longer runs. There is much logic to this, but what are we leaving out if we overlook 'failures', and are they really 'failures' at all? There was an opportunity for some fresh thinking about our newspaper heritage.
Entitled Short-lived Newspapers: Reassessing Success and Failure in the 19th Century Press, the CDP will concentrate on newspapers that lasted less than five years, chiefly those held by the British Library (we have digitised some 200 short-run titles as part of Heritage Made Digital). While the proportion of British nineteenth-century newspapers that lasted five years or less varied over time, it was always a significant percentage, often comprising more than half of the news publications in circulation.
The project is concerned with exploring and questioning preconceived ideas of success and failure in the 19th century press. It should investigate whether longevity is a useful metric for measuring the success of a newspaper, and what factors impacted how long a newspaper lasted for. It should also look at large-scale data to explore patterns of ‘success’ or ‘failure’, and map these against wider political, social and technological patterns of the period.
Research areas that could be explored to analyse why some publications thrived and others did not may include, for example, taxation and censorship (particularly the implications of the Six Acts (1819), and the ‘Taxes on Knowledge’); technology and innovation, examining the impact of railways, telegraph technology, and/or new printing technologies; the shifting fashions of reading and journalism, education and literacy; working/leisure patterns or influences originating from outside the United Kingdom.
19th century newspapers lend themselves to research in the fields of newspaper history/periodicals study; cultural, political or economic history; literature; and digital humanities. The research could incorporate a range of research methods such as bibliographic research, aspects of data science, close and distant reading, and audience studies.
Academics at UK universities and Higher Education Institutions interested in this call should download information on the research theme and the application forms here: www.bl.uk/news/2020/november/cdp-call-for-hei-partners-2020.
The application deadline is 5 pm on Friday 18 December 2020.
07 September 2020
Announced as it was in the middle of March of this year, it is possible that not all may have read of the British Library's ambitions to extend its operations in some form through a new public space in Leeds. The government has made a £25 million commitment, as part of the West Yorkshire Devolution deal, to establish a British Library North in Leeds City Centre. Exploratory discussions are underway between Leeds City Council and the British Library and property developer CEG about the Grade 1 listed Temple Works site over the potential for its occupancy by the British Library.
From a Tiziana Alocci infographic on the Crimean War
As part of this process, we have been working with various Leeds organisations and group to explore shared interests through a programme of public events. One of these, the Leeds Digital Festival, takes place 21 September-2 October, and features two events (among 294) that feature the British Library news collections. As we digitise more and more of our news collections, and as research applications of a digital news library continue to develop and challenge us, we are pleased to be able to showcase two particularly interesting events that emphasise creativity and new thinking.
AI and the Headline Archive (24 September, 12:00-13:00 - tickets still available)
As part of the Heritage Made Digital newspapers project, where we are digitising poor condition out-of-copyright newspapers, we are keen to share in imaginative ways of extracting and re-using the data. For this events we have been working with artists Tom Schofield, Sam Skinner and Nathan Jones from Torque Editions, who are using artificial intelligence and speed reading technology to explore aspects of our nineteenth-century newspaper collections, focussing on headlines and story titles. This event will discuss how new discoveries can be made about human-computer reading capacity and media flows by applying artistic and ‘hacker’ techniques to historical data.
Creating Captivating Data Visualisations (29 September 13:00-16:00 - sold out)
In May 2021 the British Library will be hosting a small exhibition on infographics on nineteenth-century themes, created out of newspaper data and other datasets. We have worked with three designers on this projectors, one of whom, the award-winning information designer Tiziana Alocci with host this workshops, together with the British Library's Lead Curator, News, Luke McKernan, Alocci will lead attendees through a hands on, practical workshop in the creative process behind effective data visualisation, exploring best practices in the industry and how to make such work stand out. This project reflects our great interest in showing how historical news resources can be illuminated through current news applications, and in demonstrating creative applications of news data.
The Leeds development is one part of still larger plans to transform the British Library's existing site in the north of England, at Boston Spa in Yorkshire. Thanks to the Chancellor’s commitment, announced in the March budget, to invest up to £95 million, we will be able to renew and develop our Boston Spa site for the 21st century, securing its ability to store and make available our ever-growing national collection for generations to come. It is at Boston Spa that the majority of the nation's newspaper collection is held, in the National Newspaper Building.
Creating Captivating Data Visualisations has sold out already, but tickets are still available for AI and the Headline Archive, which is a free event. Do join us if you can, as we explore how today's technologies can make yesterday's news speak to us in new and exciting ways.
20 May 2020
We are publishing a series of posts on favourite books about newspapers. We have asked members of the British Library's news collection team and some outside experts each to name three books about newspapers that they treasure and would recommend to others. The books can be wholly or partly about newspapers, they can be fact or fiction, they can be familiar or unfamiliar. No book can be picked twice, and no one taking part can choose one of their own books.
We hope readers will enjoy the series and seek out some of the recommendations. The choices below have been made by Dr Stephen Tate, Blackburn College University Centre.
The recollections of Thomas Catling provide a welcome insight regarding the practicalities of nineteenth-century newspaper journalism. Catling spent most of his working life on Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper in London, rising from compositor to editor. He joined the Sunday newspaper in 1854 and retired in 1906. It is a book with a rich seam of enlightening anecdote and opinion.
All three books in my selection are memoirs of newspaper journalists. They would not have been published had the authors not tasted success. But all three experienced work at the humdrum level of journalism before talent and luck saw their careers advance. In my endeavour to rescue the world of the workaday reporter from a surprising neglect in contemporary press historiography, books like Catling’s have opened up avenues of research and moments of understanding.
The author touches upon the pounds, shillings and pence of his trade; the career path from composing case to the editorial room; the role of the sub-editor; the interaction of the press with the worlds of theatre, fiction-writing, the law and politics; the mechanics of production; the practicalities of reporting crime; edition structures. The narrative is piecemeal, discursive, meandering . . . but there are dates, names, events and situations. What a feast!
For a historian researching the trade of the sporting journalist, the above title offers few clues as to its worth. But its 500 pages are packed with detail outlining the at times rambunctious, disorderly world of sport in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Watson was born in 1848 and the book covers his reporting assignments for Sporting Life, Bell’s Life in London, Sportsman and Sunday Referee, covering pugilism, pedestrianism, water sports, wrestling, cycling, billiards, endurance feats and much else besides. His dalliance with sports periodical proprietorship is also covered.
Watson worked at a time when the reporter was often called upon to act as referee and stake-money holder in prize contests and he foregrounds his role as event judge and occasional organiser, nowhere hinting at any pride in writing style or journalistic prestige. For the author and his paymasters the role of reporter is subsidiary. It is an unwitting testimony to the uncertain status of the sports reporter before the adoption by the cheap popular press of codified team games as part of its editorial agenda.
This is a fragmented, anecdotal stroll through the author’s career as Greenock shipyard apprentice, provincial newspaper telephone boy, drama critic, sub-editor and, eventually, leading Fleet Street sports reporter. Its leitmotif is perhaps best summed up in a sense of drift through the 1920s to the 1950s and that drift captures, I think, the essence of the stories of many journalists’ working lives.
Macadam suggests his book, and thereby his career, ‘. . . goes nowhere in particular from nowhere very important’, with ‘. . . accidents and divergencies along that road’. But (despite a concluding element of whimsy) it provides a valuable understanding of how some careers take shape, together with the pinched circumstances of weekly paper existence, the happenstance of job moves and the excitement and pressure associated with the quest for sports story exclusives to fuel the national newspaper juggernaut. He describes the ‘harrowing experience’ of being among the press pack on an England football international tour, the newsmen ‘. . . watching each other like cats for fear of the unconsidered trifles of news that might have escaped their own eyes’.
29 April 2020
This is a guest post by Dr Stephen Tate, who teaches at Blackburn College University Centre. A former journalist, he worked on the provincial daily press across the north of England for 30 years. He introduces us to James Catton, the lead character in his newly-published book on the sports journalist 1850s-1930s, rescuing a little-known figure from the shadows of newspaper history.
James Catton in 1908
The sporting past and the newspaper fit hand in glove. There can be few other areas of research relying as heavily on the news columns of the press for information as sports history.
For the Victorian and Edwardian periods, in particular, when much of our modern sporting panorama began to take shape, the tightly-packed columns of print offer up material rarely found elsewhere. They provide insight and comment regarding the formation of clubs, the development of rules, the slow progress towards a rational sporting calendar. The first stirrings of sporting celebrity can be traced alongside the advent of the administrator and the birth of fan culture.
The whole panoply of the Victorian sporting revolution in action is laid bare.
But who wrote the word deluge that constitutes the hallmark of the newspaper sports pages of the day?
For the most part, the industry-standard expectation of unsigned reports and the use of the nom de plume risk leaving generations of sports reporters unknown to the historical record. In the train of that anonymity comes uncertainty over their working environment, career paths, status and aspirations.
Career longevity, talent and exceptional circumstances can save some from undeserved obscurity. So, too, can chance. For James Catton all four factors serve to rescue him from the shadows.
Catton’s career began as an apprentice reporter on the bi-weekly Preston Herald in 1870s Lancashire. It was there that he became aware of the growing popularity of association football and where he took his first, tentative steps in part-time sports journalism. “The county went frantic on football,” was his considered opinion. He was then off to the East Midlands in the 1880s as a fully-fledged sports reporter on the Nottingham Daily Guardian. Both areas were hotbeds in the recasting of late-century sport as games became codified and commercialised as a fit for the industrial age.
Catton later joined the Hulton group of newspapers in Manchester where his passion for the games of the day was given free rein on the Sunday Chronicle, Sporting Chronicle and Athletic News, all papers with claimed national circulations. For 25 years from 1900 Catton worked as editor and chief reporter of the weekly Athletic News, a significant position on a widely influential title. He spent the last 10 years of his career on Fleet Street, capitalising on his reputation as the doyen of sporting journalism.
There was a particular irony attached to his role as chronicler and arbiter of Britain’s diverse sporting constituency. It was an irony Catton was acutely aware of. He was less than 5ft tall and worked in an age that was only slowly accepting the idea that in order to write with authority and insight on sport one did not necessarily need to have been a master of games-playing, to have excelled physically in the sports arena. His two predecessors as Athletic News editor had been noted sportsmen, as had a high proportion of journalists on the specialist sporting press in the closing decades of the 1800s. Catton’s small stature denied him that opportunity. His predecessors had been prominent in sports administration, too. Again, Catton had not.
But he represented something different. A new sense of professionalism within the press. A new treatment of sport. A new sense of order and regimen. Just as sport was adapted to fit within the confines of urban society so too was the reporting of sport adapted to fit within the needs of the new, cheap daily penny press of the turn of the century.
Catton was well versed in the lengthy and, to modern tastes, rather dull timetable-style reporting of sporting fixtures, with formatted and clichéd writing styles. Wasn’t it Catton who first sent “the crimson rambler” to the “confines” of the cricket field? But he had the opportunity and talent to develop his reporting repertoire on the Hulton newspapers, to embrace a lighter, chattier and more inclusive approach. His status as Athletic News editor allowed easy access to sports legislators and decision-makers. His early days in Lancashire and Notts amid the pioneers of professional football, and his subsequent career longevity – 60 years a reporter – provided him with a ready store of anecdote and insight, grist to the journalistic mill. He witnessed the elevation of the reporter from a roving brief on the touchlines to purpose-built grandstand press seats. He saw the eclipse of the homing pigeon as report carrier and the adoption of telegraph and telephone. He felt the full brunt of the increasing demand for speed of composition and action associated with the industry’s remarkable Saturday evening football results specials. He adored cricket and respected football and appreciated all manner of other games.
Catton’s career began in an age when the sports reporter might well act as match promoter, ready-money stakeholder and judge in the harum-scarum world of pugilism, blood sports and pedestrianism, and it would end with the advent of the professional controversialist embodied by the Fleet Street sports columnist. Catton’s story opens a window with a panoramic view of the world of the sports reporter.
A History of the British Sporting Journalist c1850-1939. James Catton, Sports Reporter (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2020), by Dr Stephen Tate, is a history of the trade of the sporting journalist and the career of James Catton. Much of The Athletic News (1875-1931) has been digitised and its available on the British Newspaper Archive
23 April 2020
We are publishing a series of posts on favourite books about newspapers. We have asked members of the British Library's news collection team and some outside experts each to name three books about newspapers that they treasure and would recommend to others. The books can be wholly or partly about newspapers, they can be fact or fiction, they can be familiar or unfamiliar. No book can be picked twice, and no one taking part can choose one of their own books.
We hope readers will enjoy the series and seek out some of the recommendations. The choices below have been made by Luke McKernan, Lead Curator News and Moving Image at the British Library.
This was the first book about newspapers that I read. It is still one of the best. William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) was the terrifying titan of American newspapers, whose eye for sensationalism and lurid headlines, concocted with a sometimes cavalier sense of ethical responsibility, had a profound effect on the modern era of news. He was among the most powerful men of his age, stood for President (unsuccessfully) and built up a vast, multi-media news empire that continues to this day as Hearst Communications. For many he lives on as the model for Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles' 1941 classic film Citizen Kane.
American biographer W.A. Swanberg's life of Hearst matches up to the man. Scrupulously researched but dramatically expressed, it reads like the Great American Novel. The man, his times, and the media he controlled interweave in a compelling narrative. He is able to view Hearst sympathetically while at the same type making us shudder at his vanity, his greed and his cruelty. As Swanberg astutely concludes, "He was ... a Prospero and a Caliban, and the lucky ones were those who saw only his angelic side".
Notoriously, Swanberg's book was denied a Pulitzer prize, despite the recommendation of the advisory panel, supposedly because the trustees of the award did not consider Hearst a worthy subject for such a prize. To read just one page of Citizen Hearst would prove how very wrong that judgement was.
"There's something I dislike about newspapers, and that is that they don't tell the truth ... There's so much stuff not worth looking at, adverts, scandal, and all that stuff that isn't news"."
"Reading passes the morning, to tell the truth."
It is extraordinary how little attention most books on newspapers give to their readers. We learn about how the news has been written, financed, its personalities, its political influence and its ideology, but we seldom see newspaper history from the point of view of those at whom all this effort was directed. The Press and Its Readers is a marvellous corrective to such an attitude. Produced by the social research organisation Mass-Observation, it asks some basic, sensible questions: What kind of newspapers do people want to read? Do they believe what they read? Do they remember what they read?
The result is a bracing challenge to any belief that what is published is the same as what is read. Evidence is provided of indifference, scepticism, ignorance and sharp understanding, ranging from readers who cannot be bothered with the news to those who find their lives governed by it. It covers popular and 'quality' newspapers, dailies and weeklies, national and regional press, combining snippets from frank reader interviews with useful statistics and some striking statements that make it clear just how pervasive the newspaper was in the 1940s ("The Daily Express is read by one adult in every four ... The News of the World ... is read by every second adult").
The report is filled with entertaining nuggets alongside much practical information. It is of as much value to the researcher today as it was to the advertisers, politicians and publishers at whom it was originally aimed. It tells us that without an understanding of readers, we cannot understand the news at all.
Pictures on a Page was one of a series of books written in the 1970s by Harold Evans, editor of The Sunday Times, on the practical business of producing newspapers. Titles such as Editing and Design, Handling Newspaper Text and News Headlines were to be found (and can still be found) on many a newsroom desk, but Pictures on a Page broke through to popular acclaim. It is simply the best-looking book on newspapers yet published. Evans's theme is the practices and principles of photo-journalism. He shows how news photographs are made, what makes a news photograph, and how presentation and context are everything. Over 500 classic photographs and newspaper pages make the book compellingly browsable.
What is particularly thrilling about Pictures on a Page is its demonstration of the expert editorial eye. Evans illustrates through a series of marvellous examples how selection, enlargement, cropping, arrangement alongside text and layout have bought out the drama in a news story, to the extent that the news history of our times is one that might be told more readily through images that text, because it is pictures that have captured the moment and the meaning.
Evans steers us wisely through the ethical issues and the troubled relationship between the photograph and reality. It is a book to make us realise just how selective and manufactured this thing called news really is. Yet at the same time we see how compelling the news image can be, what deep feelings it stirs within us. To make us both question and yet cherish photo-journalism is the book's great achievement.
20 April 2020
We're starting up a series of posts on favourite books about newspapers. We have asked members of the British Library's news collection team and some outside experts each to name three books about newspapers that they treasure and would recommend to others. The books can be wholly or partly about newspapers, they can be fact or fiction, they can be familiar or unfamiliar. No book can be picked twice, and no one taking part can choose one of their own books.
We hope readers will enjoy the series and seek out some of the recommendations. We start with the choices of Beth Gaskell, Curator Newspaper Digitisation for the British Library's Heritage Made Digital programme.
For anyone researching the nineteenth-century press, the Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism (DNCJ) is the go-to reference work. It defines key concepts, introduces numerous important people and titles, and uncovers some of the connections that underpinned the media environment of the time.
It describes itself as providing a ‘snapshot of British and Irish journalism in the nineteenth century’, acknowledging that the scale of media production at the time makes it impossible to cover everything in one volume. However, the examples that have been chosen for inclusion cover a huge range of formats, frequencies, readerships, economic and ownership models, and political alignments; important sub-categories of the press such as trade publications, and the religious press; as well as concepts such as distribution, ‘class publications’, and anonymity and signature. The result is that the volume’s sum total paints a fairly comprehensive picture of the nineteenth-century press.
The DNCJ’s dictionary format means that this is not a reference work to be read cover-to-cover, but something to be dipped into frequently. I have a copy of my desk that I refer to almost every day.
This incredibly readable book by Phillip Knightley charts the history of war correspondents, exploring their origins, investigating their experiences in various nineteenth and twentieth-century conflicts, and analysing the often conflicting roles they play in providing true accounts, boosting morale and negotiating censorship.
The Firsts Casualty has been a particularly significant book for me. Reading it sparked my interest in news and war reporting, inspiring me to undertake a project on the reporting of the Vietnam War during my A levels. Then, when I started my PhD, researching military newspapers and periodicals, it was the first thing I was suggested to read by my supervisors. I felt like I had come full circle.
It is a great resource for anyone interested in the history of war correspondents, war reporting, and the interaction between the media, the military, and civil society during conflicts. It also has useful notes and a great bibliography of further reading.
While this book would appear to focus on a very limited twenty-year period in the mid-nineteenth century, its coverage and its implications are actually much wider. It gives a thorough background to the taxes and censorship that were imposed upon newspapers by the government, from the invention of the printing press through to the late nineteenth century. It is an essential read for anyone interested in the financing of newspapers and in the history of press freedom.
It is also a great read for anyone interested in the wider political landscape of the nineteenth century, in industrialisation and trade history, and in shifting historical ideas about reading, education, and the dangers and benefits of cheaply available information.
Curator, Newspaper Digitisation
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