I’ve spent the past couple of days hunched up in front of my laptop squinting at blurry text from the late 1800s. But it’s worth it.
The NLA Australian Newspaper Archive is a brilliant website (as is Papers Past, the New Zealand equivalent) that has simply offered up its entire historic archive (from 1803 to 1954) to view, free of charge.
Its search engine is sensible:- you can browse and subsequently filter by title, location, date, type of story, or just search for specific words. This search, though, is what might make impatient people squirm. Each story / section of each paper has been scanned and a machine has read the text. So what? So, referring back to the blurry, squinting comment above, this machine is not infallible. It has a penchant for replacing Es with Os…Australians among us will be familiar with the shortening of nearly every word with “o” (like deco for decoration, rego for registration – you get the idea) but it gets a little ridiculous when the word “evidence” is scanned as “ovidonco”. It makes searching more difficult if you’re looking for “Smith” but the record you’re looking for has been scanned in as “Brnltb” (the S becomes B, the m is split to 2 letters r and n, the i becomes l – t stays the same – and h becomes b). You just have to hope that the search term has been scanned correctly once or twice in the article, and then you’re OK.
But the pure gold of this website? It allows you to fix it. It’s not precious: it knows the value of volunteer action, and if you see a word (trust me, you will) that has been incorrectly scanned, you can fix it. Even put a comment on there too for everyone to see, if you think the correction is important.
Much of the text I’ve been correcting relates to James Inglis and Co Limited and a libel lawsuit they had to fight against the Co-operative Coupon Company. James Inglis, in his usual exuberance, wrote a rather scathing attack on the coupon system and put it in his “Little Monthly Messenger” leaflet that went out to customers and suppliers. The Co-operative Coupon Company took this is an attack on themselves specifically, and therefore sued James Inglis and Co for libel. James won the first round (hurrah!) but a retrial was granted and I have yet to find the outcome in an article (maybe it was scanned under “lmyius”). Some of the articles are here and here.