Using Historic Newspapers

CollectionUsing Historic NewspapersUsing Historic Newspapers

Most users unfamiliar with searching/reading 19th and early 20th century newspapers will find it necessary to use search strategies different from those used for modern newspapers. Newspaper publishing practices and the journalism profession have changed quite a bit over the last 150 years, as have society and language.

It is useful to know about secondary sources before using any primary sources. This will help understanding the content and often will identify terms to use for searching. These newspapers were published for readers at a certain place and time:

  • Newspaper readers in Boulder understood references that a visitor from Silverton would not: From the 3rd page of the August 10, 1883 issue of the Boulder News and Courier: “Reserved seats for Carleton’s lecture can be had at Fonda’s on and after today without extra charge.” Who is Carleton? What is the lecture topic? Where/what is Fonda’s? This example also illustrates the value the CHNC offers in providing the entire issue as it was originally published. On page 2 of that same issue, there is an advertisement for a lecture by Will Carleton, poet, to be held at Berlin’s Hall on August 31, 1883.
  • Newspaper readers in 1875 understood references that readers in the same community in 2005 would not: For example, the phrase “fortified with Dutch courage” was used in the Feb. 3, 1883 issue of the Aspen Times. People in 1883 understood that to mean intoxicated, but the term would be puzzling to modern-day readers.

The same assumptions are made by newspapers today. As modern residents of the United States we know what the Super Bowl is or what is meant by 9-ll.

The newspapers in this collection span the years 1859 through 1928 and beyond. That span also represents changes in journalistic practice, society, and language that must be considered when searching.

Some differences between the journalistic practices in early newspapers and those of modern newspapers include:

  • Early newspapers included many brief, 2-3 sentence articles; therefore, your search may retrieve many articles with little substantial content.
  • Earlier newspapers seldom include the full length articles typical of modern newspapers; therefore, brief articles may be the only type you find on your topic.
  • Be prepared to find a mix of editorial commentary and factual news in the same article. Early newspapers did not follow the modern practice of trying to clearly separate opinion, analysis, and factual reporting.
  • Be aware of various differences in language between the 19th century and today. Terms used in the past do not always have the same meaning currently; in some cases, usage has become archaic or obsolete. For example: transient, consumption, hornswoggle, Yanks.
  • These newspapers reflect the attitudes, beliefs, and perspectives of the times, and may stereotype individuals and groups or use terms that are now considered derogatory and offensive. For example: mammy, colored, Huns, savages.
  • Abbreviations were sometimes used, particularly for proper names.
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