This time last year I was trudging along a slushy pavement with a soggy copy of The Times in my hand. It was only Christmas Eve, but I'd been given an early present - an interview I did with one of the paper's journalists had just been published. These were heady times. A few month's earlier I'd given a paper at Yale University and written a well received article for The Guardian. I was beginning to fancy myself as a bit of a media don. This was more than a touch premature - I haven't got close to a newspaper, radio show, or TV documentary since. However, at the time, a glittering showbiz career was beckoning (if only in my own mind) and I was undeniably excited. The whole process started a few weeks earlier. I met with Mike Addelman, the University of Manchester's brilliant press officer, to talk about publicizing some of my research. I ran through a few possibilities, but when I mentioned my work on American jokes his eyes lit up. "This stuff will really sell", he said. The only thing missing was a topical hook. It was at this point that I said something that I've lived to regret: [...]
Two years ago I taught on an undergraduate course which gave 1st year students an introduction to Victorian Britain. In the opening seminar I divided my students into groups and asked them to define a 'typical Victorian'. As I expected, they drew upon every cliche in the book: top hats, bonnets, monocles and waxed mustaches cropped up in every discussion. When I asked them to imagine their character's surroundings, they immediately thought of gloomy workhouses, smoke-filled factories and crumbling Dickensian rookeries. Finally, I asked them to describe their character's personality. All of them imagined the 'typical Victorian' as glum, joyless, or incapable of expressing any emotion at all. When I jokingly asked them to do their best impression of a Victorian they all stared back at me with expressions of disdainful indifference (which I decided not to interpret as genuine contempt). These responses were not unexpected. For the best part of a century we've imagined the Victorians in these unflattering terms. Most people tend to think of them as old fashioned, stuffy, pompous, cripplingly respectable, emotionally stunted, sexually repressed, and obsessive about manners and decorum. One of the most enduring (though probably apocryphal) images of the period is of Queen Victoria, dressed in black [...]
When the British Newspaper Archive was launched a few weeks back a lot of researchers were frustrated to discover that the 'unlimited' subscription package actually had a 'fair use' cap of 1000 page views per month. When I e-mailed the archive's customer service team about it they informed me that the archive was intended for 'personal use' only and that the cap was non-negotiable. Fortunately, they seem to have had a slight change of heart. The 'fair usage' section of the archive's terms & conditions has now been updated to read: Why do we have a fair usage policy for subscribers? Well, it is certainly not a way to penalise or hold back our customers from conducting their personal research. We have this in place purely for the (very rare) cases where people might abuse the service, and it is designed to keep the price of subscriptions as low as possible for our customers. You are permitted to view an average of 1000 pages per month (calculated over a 3 month period). If you get close to the limit, we’ll send you an email to warn you. We always contact users to establish the reason for abnormally heavy use of the [...]
If you clicked on any of the hotlinks in my review of the British Newspaper Archive you might have been taken to an address with "www1." at the start. If you were also using IE or Firefox this might have resulted in your browser warning you about a security risk. It's a false alarm; a minor glitch that stems from the addition of the "1" after "www". The BNA have assured us that their website is completely secure and that the problem has now been resolved. I've fixed the links in my own review - if you've linked to the archive on your own blog it would be worth double checking to make sure that the address is correct. Thanks to Charles Robinson for alerting me to the problem.
In my recent review of The British Newspaper Archive I moaned about the fact that 'hit-term highlighting' was mysteriously absent from its interface. Unlike every other archive on the market, the BNA doesn't highlight your search term on the article image. Here's how it works in other databases: In this example, I performed a keyword search for the term 'Victorian'. One of the articles it returned was this lengthy piece from the Liverpool Mercury. It's 5616 words long. Fortunately, thanks to hit-term highlighting, I can just skip straight to the word shaded in green and read the part of the article that I'm interested in. A similar search on the BNA would require me to carefully read a column and a half of text in order to find the word I searched for. This really slows down the research process when you've got 500 articles to analyse. With any luck, brightsolid will address this problem with an update to the BNAs interface. This might take a while - in the meantime, there's a temporary solution to the problem that should save us all a bit of time: Step 1: perform a normal keyword search. Step 2: open up an article. [...]
My first academic article will be published in the next issue of Media History. It's all about 'American Humour' columns and their role in shaping transatlantic relations during the late nineteenth century. For those of you who can't wait to read it in print (hello?... is anybody still here?), an advance copy is now available on the journal's website. Unfortunately, a subscription to Media History is required to view it - unless you're mad enough to pay £21 to buy your own copy (in which case send the money directly to me and I'll throw in a signed photograph). It's going to be published as part of a special issue on ephemeral print culture which will include fantastic articles by Jim Mussell, Laurel Brake, Adrian Bingham, Pam Epstein (author of the brilliant advertisingforlove.com), and Karl Christian Führer. A perfect Christmas gift for the discerning historian-about-town. Abstract: During the final quarter of the nineteenth century, columns of American jokes became a regular feature of numerous British newspapers. The Newcastle Weekly Currant, for example, had a weekly column of ‘Yankee Snacks’; The North Wales Chronicle had ‘American Humour’; the Hampshire Telegraph its ‘Jonathan's Jokes’; and the Northern Weekly Gazette sported a ‘Stars and [...]
On Friday night I had an illuminating Twitter conversation with Will Tattersdill (@faceometer) - a fellow researcher who shares some of my concerns about the new British Library Newspaper Archive. He pointed out an interesting passage in the archive's terms and conditions: What you can use the service for: You can only use the website for your own personal non-commercial use e.g. to research newspaper archives and other archives featured on the website that you are interested in and to purchase goods that we may sell on the website. We are also happy for you to help out other people by telling them about the newspaper archives and other information available on the website and how and where they can be found. However, you must not provide them with copies of any of the newspapers (either an original image of the newspapers or the information on the results page), even if you provide them for free. It's easy to brush this off as a classic example of small-print gobbledegook - the kind of thing we all mindlessly agree to every time we're forced to update iTunes. But, the more I think about it, the more astonishing this passage seems to be. Are [...]
[update summer 2014] I wrote this review of the British Newspaper Archive way back in 2011. At the time, I was rather critical of some of its shortcomings. However, I'm pleased to say that the BNA has subsequently addressed many of the problems I identified back then. Their subscription packages are more reasonable, the usage caps have been lifted, and they’re very relaxed about people sharing the findings of their research. The hit-term highlighting problem has been solved, and new material seems to be appearing more rapidly than it did in the past. In other words, they have fixed almost all of the teething problems that I identified in the original archive. It's not perfect by any means, but I do think the BNA has evolved into a good archive that justifies its subscription fee. I'll be writing a new review shortly. Christmas arrived early for historians this week. On Tuesday morning, amid a blaze of publicity, the British Library unveiled the new home of its digitised newspaper collection - The British Newspaper Archive (BNA). Developed in partnership with commercial publisher brightsolid, the BNA provides online access to hundreds of eighteenth, nineteenth and early-twentieth-century newspapers. It’s an ambitious, long-term project [...]