History isn’t just for textbooks when centuries worth of newspapers are available online, and getting to them isn’t as hard as you may think.
There are any number of reasons to want to look at old newspapers. It could be quenching a thirst for historical knowledge as it was written at the time. Maybe you’re doing research for a school or work project. Or you could be looking things up to check out genealogical ties. Whatever your reasons, the tools available online today are more varied and robust than they’ve ever been before.
Previously, I had written about research papers produced by academia, but newspaper archives provide a different kind of context. They’re largely contemporaneous historical records that offer a glimpse into what happened at a particular moment and time. They can provide some insight into what a prevailing feeling or mood was for a historical event that is now so much better understood today.
Various initiatives have digitized newspapers going back hundreds of years. Some may come from various countries, while others might be in different languages. It’s not hard to find them when you know where to look.
One place to start for all things Canada would be LibGuides. It’s no longer updated because the librarian who worked on it has since retired. But up to 2019, there is a massive trove of clippings to look at, and it covers the country’s history, even going back before Confederation.
While hardly “flashy” in its presentation, it’s the content that matters here. The site is nicely laid out based on publication, or the type of clipping you’re looking for. For example, editorial cartoons are placed in their own section, dating back to 1952. French-Canadian and multilingual papers are also in there for those interested in seeing them. If you want to see the wartime paper Canadian troops were reading in 1944-1946, there are plenty of clippings to look at there, too.
There’s a link to GenDisasters.com that offers clippings on disasters by province, and you can also look up the United States, if you like. The genealogy section is also particularly interesting if you want to look up a family member or ancestor. Regardless of your pursuit in looking at old newspaper archives from this country, this site is easily the best launchpad.
If it’s Americana you’re looking for, then you may want to start with the Library of Congress. It has digitized papers from 1777-1963, spanning a huge part of the country’s history, from the Revolutionary War to the JFK assassination. Unfortunately, they haven’t gotten to the subsequent years and decades yet, so you won’t see coverage of the many things that happened after that.
You might, however, find some in a place like the Advantage Archives, where there are tons of articles from many newspapers spanning almost every state. There’s a lot to go through here, with over 85 million pages available to view free of charge.
Given the genealogy angle that applies here, Ancestry.com got in on the action with its own archive: Newspapers.com. It is the largest newspaper archive online, boasting over 20,000 papers, with over 640 million pages in its database. Apart from the 7-day trial, you do have to pay for the privilege of looking up all those back issues, but there’s no question the trove here is massive. And it’s not just the U.S. There are clippings from some other countries as well, most of which are English-speaking.
If you really want to cast a wider net, start with Elephind. There’s a real wealth of information on here, and the search tools make it easy to focus on what it is you’re looking for. For instance, if you type a search query, and then select the decade, you will see all sorts of results pop up. That includes the sidebar, where you can dive deeper, like the specific year, publication or language.
Much of what’s available is in English from English-speaking countries, but there are translations of some foreign clippings, too. Rather than host all of the content, you can think of Elephind as something of a search engine for all things newspaper clips. A great resource for anyone looking for context as it happened at the time.
Newspaper Archive is another one with an abundance of digitized papers to look through. It has one of the broadest scopes I’ve seen online as far as including other countries. There are dozens, and while not all of them will span the 400-plus years in this archive, you at least have something to start with. It’s just that it will cost you. There is a 7-day free trial to try it out, so long as you’re willing to go for six months afterward. It’s USD$74.95 for those six months. Or you can pay $139.90 for a full 12 months. If it’s just a month that you need, it’s $19.95.
When you’re after something more recent, Google has its own archive for such a thing. It’s laid out in a pretty barebones style, but you get the gist quickly. Look for the publication title and it takes you to links to back issues.