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Newspapers and other online news sources from the 17th – 21st centuries: Home

A guide to historical and current newspapers and news sources, covering the 17th to 21st centuries. Includes searching tips, outline common problems and lists key resources available to Oxford scholars.

Purpose of this guide

This guide is intended for students and researchers looking for news and newspaper resources at the University of Oxford, although students and researchers from related fields may find it useful.

Use this guide to find out about the different historical and current newspaper resources, print and online, and how best to locate and use them.

Newspaper (n.)

Image of row of newspapers in a newspaper agent

Newspaper (n.)

“A printed publication, now usually issued daily or weekly, consisting of folded unstapled sheets and containing news, freq. with the addition of advertisements, photographs, articles, and correspondence”
OED Online. Oxford University Press, accessed online 3/8/17

First mentioned in 1667 by the Earl of Arlington "I must refer you to our News Papers for a further account of the Proceedings of the Parliament." Let. to W. Temple 18 Oct. (1701) 187, OED, accessed online 3/8/17 

Further reading

Historic Newspapers in the Digital Age

In recent years, cultural institutions and commercial providers have created extensive digitised newspaper collections. This book asks the timely question: what can the large-scale digitisation of newspapers tell us about the wider cultural phenomenon of mass digitisation? The unique form and materiality of newspapers, and their grounding in a particular time and place, provide challenges for researchers and digital resource creators alike. At the same time, the wider context in which digitisation of cultural heritage occurs shapes the impact of digital resources in ways which fall short of the grand ambitions of the wider theoretical discourse. Drawing on case studies from leading digitised newspaper collections, the book aims to provide a bridge between the theory and practice of how these digitised collections are being used. Beginning with an exploration of the hyperbolic nature of technological discourses, the author explores how web interfaces, funding models and the realities of contemporary user behaviour contrast with the hyperbolic discourse surrounding mass digitisation. This book will be of particular interest to those who want to investigate how user studies can inform our understanding of technological phenomena, including digital resource creators, information professionals, students and researchers in universities, libraries, museums and archives. 

Value of newspapers

Newspapers are generally aimed at the general public or particular groups of the general public.

They are useful to find out about key events, people and places. They include opinion pieces, of either writers, editors or members of the public in form of Letters to the Editor. They are also a wonderful source for all sorts of ephemera (weather, court circulars, advertising, etc.). Larger newspapers will also provide battle or war reports, law or court reports and parliamentary reports, incl. occasional reproductions of full text speeches.

Understanding the context of your newspaper

To use newspapers as a source responsibly, you really need to understand the context of each newspaper. For instance, newspapers were often used for propaganda purposes (owner, country, religion, etc.). You need to consider:

  • the intended audience
  • where in the newspaper your article appears (e.g. front page, length of article). For instance, there is a gender agenda if placed on social events section? This could be a problem if a newspaper database doesn’t show you the layout of newspaper and where the article was actually published (see Common problems)
  • ownership and editors

Using newspapers without that understanding can lead one to be misinformed about the time period being researched: bias, wrong facts, propaganda. It is advised to use other sources to corroborate & provide different perspective.

Tools to help you learn more about your newspaper:

The Waterloo Directories include historical information on ownership, circulation, prices, political & religious affiliation, etc. Please note the Waterloo Directories don't work well with Internet Explorer (IE).

World Press Trends Database: a primary source of data to the global newspaper industry worldwide, covering 2006-2017. It includes data from more than 70 countries, accounting for more than 90 per cent of the global industry's value. The data is available as individual country reports, and aggregated to reveal trends on circulation and readership.

What you can do with newspapers

Use of newspapers depends on what you intend to do but examples of what you can do include:

  • Search for specific person, place, event across or in individual newspaper for political, social, economic, cultural history (incl. literature, etc.)
  • Understand better what life was like in particular place, region, country or period
  • Research newspaper as form of communication (incl. linguistic aspects, history of journalism)
  • Research specific content types (ads, editorials, obituaries)

Top resources

Classes and workshops

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