Monday, September 15, 2008

Google's New "Historical Treasure Trove"

Anyone who’s worked in a private law library has faced the daunting task of finding a needle in the haystack of old newspapers. It could be anything: an advertisement, photo, obituary, or some other item that never got indexed when being processed for microfilm or electronic database. In those situations, unless you have a very good idea of when the mystery item appeared, your chances of finding it are slim—pretty much your only option is to get up close and personal with the microfiche reader at the local library.

So Google's announcement that it will be digitizing archives of newspapers from around the globe is pretty cool. And not just just the articles, but also ads, headlines, and photos--in short, all that peripheral content from outside the day's story.

There doesn’t appear to be a comprehensive list of newspapers participating, and coverage does seem a bit patchy still. But a few random searches pulled hits from the Vancouver Times from as far back as 1864, and the Vancouver Daily Post from 1865. And on the proud Canadian front, the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph (according to Google, the oldest newspaper in North America) is also there, along with a 1822 copy of the Montreal Herald.

The digitized content is easy to navigate: you can link right to an article or a specific issue of a newspaper. It also offers a fascinating glimpse into historical material that might not make the grade for a vetted history book ... see for instance, this invitation to a "public and gratuitous lecture at the city tavern"!

The newly digitized content is available by searching the Google News Archive, which yields results from a variety of sources, not just Google’s own collections. Some of these sources are free, while others do require a a pay-per-view subscription.

And finally ... typical of the Google approach here... while the search interface is pretty simple up front, search control can be found under the hood -- use the advanced search for drilling down on language, source, date, price, etc., within the results.

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