strengths and weaknesses of the approaches used by the British Newspapers 1600-1950 and British History Online

Reflect on the different strengths and weaknesses of the approaches used by the British Newspapers 1600-1950 (part 2) and British History Online (part 3).

The British newspapers of this period contain reports, advertisements and articles on a wide-ranging subject matter.  The newspapers cover national and local news as well as international affairs and politics.  All of this information is an invaluable tool for   historians to understand daily life and provides an insight into the past.  There is also a  useful website[1]  which holds around three million digitized pages of newspaper content from 408 newspapers . However when looking at the coverage by newspapers of earlier periods, there are some weaknesses to note.   One weakness is the fact that many newspapers copied each other’s stories so there was a large amount of repetition, subsequently it could be implied that there was a lack of originality in reporting the news.  In addition to this local newspapers often copied news published in the large national papers, so there was little variation in local publications.  Furthermore some of the articles are very short and there is often no evidence with regard to the origins of the article, which makes them difficult to authenticate.  When it comes to spelling there are many differences in spelling when compared to modern-day English.  For example the long ‘S’ was often used and is often mistaken for an ‘f’, this can cause difficulties in understanding text.     Another example is the misspelling of words, for instance the word Irish can also be found under spellings such as I rifh and I rish.  Subsequently this can make it difficult when researching as it can lead to sources being missed.  In addition to this it could also be said that it can be more time consuming to go through all documents with more than one spelling of a keyword.  However this does bring up more sources so it could just be a personal preference as to whether quality is better than quantity.

British History online is a non-profit organisation that was founded by the Institute of Historical Research in 2003.   Its main purpose is to bring together material from museums, libraries, archives and collections and make it accessible for both the public and the academic community.  The website has secondary and primary sources   from the medieval period up to the twentieth century, and also has maps, guides and images to aid research. The site focuses on British history including colonial history and that of the Norman invasion.  The site is well-regulated and also uses a double re typing method which keeps mistakes to a minimum. So unlike the Connected Histories website there is a much lower chance of bringing up sources which contain misspellings. However this could be seen as a weakness as there is a chance of missing something interesting.  Another point worth noting is the fact that the site only focuses on British history, so there is very limited information about international affairs unless directly connected to British history.  Nonetheless the site does have an extensive list of external resources which can provide further information.  Sources found on British History online are allowed to be referenced but there is a proviso that no more than a few lines are reproduced unless permission is given, so there may be a wait for permission to be given.

[1] ‘Search The Archive: British Newspaper Archive’,; consulted 2 April 2015


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