For the first time ever, researchers and journalists, regardless of their location are now able to explore over two million pages of newspaper from 49 national and regional UK titles at the click of a button. With enhanced search capabilities and new imaging techniques, serious and amateur researchers now have access to vivid newspaper reports previously only available via hard copy in Reading Rooms.
Stephen Douds, Producer, BBC Northern Ireland, said: "The British Library's 19th century newspaper website has proved an invaluable resource whilst researching a series on the Story of Ireland. Our team of researchers found that searching the first draft of history online added a distinct colour and richness to the material. This is fertile territory for researchers who are working to tight deadlines and the immediacy, breadth and range of recourses available, including many regional newspaper titles significantly added to the overall content of our series."
Simon Fowler, Editor, Ancestors Magazine, said: "This new service really does open up a major new resource for family historians. Realistically for the first time it is possible to use newspapers to complement other records to build up a rounder portrait of our ancestors, with information that would not be possible to obtain elsewhere."
Author Linda Stratmann said: "The 19th century digitized collection with its search facilities has led me to information that I think would have been impossibly time consuming to find in any other way. I have recently signed a contract to write a book for the British Library on the subject of the Illustrated Police News and have been using the collection as a valuable tool to examine and analyze the content of the publication."
Prof. James A. Secord, History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge said: "I have always been suspicious of claims that electronic resources can transform your research life, but an exception has to be made for the online archive of British Library 19th century newspapers. For the first time, it is possible to search a wide range of titles in the provincial and metropolitan press quickly and easily: work that would have taken painful weeks on a microfilm reader can now be done in an afternoon. Everything from biographical details to editorials about major events can be recovered, making this a tool useful for anyone interested in the national past. I used to spend much of my time showing students how to find things; now there is more time for them to think."
Chosen by leading experts and researchers to present a cross section of 19th century society, the website offers its users highly illustrated materials on topics as diverse as business and sport, politics and entertainment. Bathing machines, children as young as nine smoking and drinking, Vesta Tilley - London's very own Pop Idol, the banking collapse of 1878 and zero percent income tax are just a few of the fascinating items researchers can now look at online.
The collection focuses on national newspapers such as the Daily News, English regional papers, for example the Manchester Times, home country newspapers from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, weekly titles such as Penny Illustrated Paper and Graphic and specialist titles such that covered Victorian radicalism and Chartism such as Charter.
Users are now able to read first-hand factual reporting of the Battle of Trafalgar in the Examiner and the gory details of the Whitechapel murders in the melodramatic Illustrated Police News. Alternatively, researchers can access reports directly at their desktops on the first FA Cup final between Wanderers and Royal Engineers at the Kennington Oval in 1872 or the first England-Australia Test match in 1877. Some of the most famous authors of the 19th century are also represented, including Dickens and Thackeray.
Simon Bell, the British Library's Head of Strategic Licensing and Partnerships, said: "This website was developed with the researcher in mind. There is a huge appetite for wider online access to this kind of resource and we are pleased that so many researchers and journalists have used the website to research material. It enables users across the UK who don't wish to travel to our Reading Rooms in London or Yorkshire to delve into this unrivalled online resource."
Alastair Dunning, Digitisation Programme Manager at JISC added: "This is one of many JISC-funded projects which will open up valuable slices of history to new audiences using online channels. The British Library site means genealogists, academics and the public alike now have easy access to a realm of fascinating information - which is core to our ethos of backing innovative uses of technology."
Jim Draper, Vice President and Publisher at Gale said, "This service fulfills a vision of making these fascinating historical records available to the widest possible audience. Now researchers the world over – historians, genealogists, and the merely curious – can discover the 19th century in exciting new ways."
Searches of the site are free and downloads of full-text articles are available by purchasing either a 24-hour or seven-day pass. Users can buy a 24-hour pass (up to 100 downloads) for £6.99 or a seven-day pass (up to 200 downloads) for £9.99. Access to The Graphic and The Penny Illustrated Paper is free.