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Searching the Past for Fun and Profit

August 6, 2009 • History Factory

History Factory employees spend a lot of time reading newspapers. And we’re not talking about today’s headlines, though we read those, too. When it comes to trying to unearth the history of a business—both what happened, and how people at the time reacted to it—our first stop may be the corporate archives, but our second is historic newspapers.

Many newspaper companies helpfully make their own back issues available online. The New York Times archive goes back to 1851—the founding date of the newspaper—and, with the exception of 1922–1987, is free to read. The Washington Post archive likewise begins with the first issue in 1877, although its fee structure is less generous. But for smaller, local papers, the search becomes a little more complex. The information is out there—in the Library of Congress’s free Historic American Newspapers database, Proquest, and a host of other commercial databases accessible by subscription—but finding which database supplies the paper you need for the years you need it can be a needle-in-a-haystack quest.

Enter Google. Its News Archive service, launched in 2006, aims to make it easy to search a multitude of historic newspaper sources with a single click. In 2008, Google began enhancing News Archive with its own historic newspaper digitization program, bringing previously inaccessible papers to the Web. On Monday, that initiative took a giant leap forward. According to Google’s blog, “We’ve recently updated our index, quadrupling the number of articles.”

Those are words to warm a historian’s heart—especially since Google makes its content available for free. News Archive is about to become a starting point for History Factory research into our clients’ past trials and triumphs.


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