Friday, March 07, 2008

Wandering Around In History.


If you can't find me, if I don't seem to be around, the chances are that once again I am lost in some old newspaper. I know that I have written before about my passion for old newspapers. The chances are that you don't share it, in which case you can skip to the end of this post. Do something interesting and useful like watching TV or playing Space Invaders. But, just in case you are a fellow newspaperphile (there must be a better term for "lover and collector of old newspapers"), then let me share a recently discovered site with you. It is American and it is called NewspaperARCHIVE.com and it does seem to be more than just devoted to high-priced, novel, birthday presents. It is a commercial site and therefore you do need to subscribe if you want access to the full collection of some 2,700 titles and 77 million pages. But there are several free areas and you can subscribe to a free daily newsletter called "The Daily Perspective". This provides a marvelous insight into the historical background to both modern-day events and also important news stories which have hit the headlines on that particular day in previous years. Links to these individual newspaper pages are also free and therefore provide endless scope for just wandering around in history.

As far as I have been able to discover, there is nothing similar covering the UK. There is the British Library Newspaper Collection which is supposed to be moving towards a digital collection but that is so inaccessible it is hardly worth bothering with. There are probably reasons why the British Library see it as their duty to restrict access to the national collection of newspapers, but whatever they are they are not good reasons. There are the numerous websites with names like famousdayinhistory.com which will sell you a fancy photocopy of a newspaper from your birthdate at an inflated price. And there are some individual newspapers which are making their archives available to subscribers, but such projects are still in their early stages.

So until something better is available in this country I spend my spare moments - let's be honest, my spare hours, sometimes entire days - searching through old newspapers with marvelous names like the Fayetteville Democrat and the Appleton Post-Crescent. Some people are only happy when kitted out in hiking boots climbing over the hills and moors of the countryside. Me, I like my slippers and a good glass of beer, a pile of old newspapers and an aimless journey through history.

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