Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"What does the death of newspapers mean for historians?"

My latest blog post for the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities. The topic assigned me was, "What does the death of newspapers mean for historians?" though Mass Humanities gave it the online title, "The Checkered Past of Newspapers":
When people ask me what the death of the newspaper means to historians, I respond, what do you mean by death? or newspaper? I’d say, first, reports of its death are greatly exaggerated because (unlike Mark Twain) it can exist simultaneously in multiple forms and locations. The decline of the traditional newspaper is largely a phenomenon of western consumer society.

An eclectic set of images--"World History of Newspapers"--can be found via the "Gallery" rubric, always on the top page of The Public Humanist. Here are a couple of examples from Massachusetts:

Appropriate for our Lincoln year and Lincoln-obsessed political climate: A classic newspaper from the era of partisanship. Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison's The Liberator of 7 July 1865 celebrates the “Great Funeral” of “The Foul Spirit of Secession,” which died “of a severe attack of the Great Union Army, in convulsions the most violent,” on 3 April (Union troops took the Confederate capital of Richmond on that date), and offers a “Tribute to Abraham Lincoln. Extract from a Memorial Address . . . delivered at the Hall of the Mechanics' Institute of St. John, N.B., June 1, 1865, at the invitation of the Citizens, by Charles M. Ellis, Esq. of Boston."

The Northampton Free Press, of 1872. Here one could find a potpourri of local news, politics, literary poetry and prose, and a wealth of advertisements that are a treasure trove for genealogists and historians of local history and daily life. The colossal format--over two feet tall--also helps to explain the old stock images of people sheltering under a newspaper in a rainstorm or during a nap in the park. Harder and harder to do nowadays, with less durable paper and the trend toward smaller formats.

[cross-posting from the book blog because this concerns general historical matters, as well]

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