In Which Methodology, as well as Access, Significantly Shapes the Project

Last week I demonstrated that different institutions have varying levels of access to the titles included in Early American Newspapers, arguing that this shaped the scope of the project. The access from the reading room at the American Antiquarian Society includes 21 newspapers published in 1766 with broad geographic reach, while accessing Early American Newspapers via my college’s library allows me to examine only 14 newspapers. Those titles are confined mostly, but not exclusively, to New England and New York.

In some ways the effects might be minimized, especially if we take into account T.H. Breen’s argument about the standardization of consumer culture throughout the colonies in the eighteenth century. Colonial consumers, he maintains, purchased imported goods that were increasingly uniform from port city to port city, region to region, in the decades leading up to the American Revolution. Indeed, Breen claims that having similar experiences in the marketplace and speaking a common language of consumption facilitated Americans’ ability to speak to each other about political matters, especially as they imbued consumption with political valences in the wake of the Stamp Act and other measures enacted by Parliament.

That being said, I would still prefer to demonstrate that advertisements from the Chesapeake and the Lower South marketed the same or similar goods and deployed the same or similar appeals as the commercial notices printed in newspapers from New England and the Middle Atlantic. I would like to be able to show – visually and through commentary – rather than merely tell. In addition, even if colonists did have access to increasingly standardized goods and services throughout the colonies that does not necessarily mean that regional differences did not also emerge, especially in terms of marketing. Did advertisers throughout the colonies make similar appeals as they marketed the same assortment of goods?

These are some questions I wanted to raise last week, but the bibliographic details were already so extensive that I held them in reserve. This week I would like to raise some other questions about the contours of this project, but these are based on my methodology rather than access to Early American Newspapers.

Recall that whenever possible I select an advertisement published on that date 250 years ago. When no newspapers were published on that date (or, at least, none that I can access!) I resort to a newspaper printed as close to that date as possible (but always previously printed: it must have been in the hands of colonists somewhere). In addition, I consult newspapers from as many different cities, colonies, and regions as possible. On some days I have multiple options. To help illustrate this, guest curator Kathryn J. Severance and I worked out this census of newspapers that we can access via the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources for the current week, Sunday, February 7 through Saturday, February 13.

February 6, 1766

  • Boston News-Letter
  • Pennsylvania Gazette
  • These newspapers fall outside of this week. Consult them only if there were no acceptable adverts in the newspapers published on February 7.

February 7, 1766

  • Connecticut Gazette
  • New-Hampshire Gazette

February 8, 1766

  • No newspapers were published on February 8. Use any newspaper published on February 7 or, if necessary, February 6.

February 9, 1766

  • No newspapers were published on February 9. Use any newspaper published on February 7 or, if necessary, February 6.

February 10, 1766

  • Connecticut Courant
  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston Post-Boy
  • New-York Gazette
  • New-York Mercury
  • Newport Mercury
  • Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote

February 11, 1766

  • No newspapers were published on February 11. Use any newspaper published on February 10.

February 12, 1766

  • No newspapers were published on February 12. Use any newspaper published on February 10.

February 13, 1766

  • Boston News-Letter
  • Pennsylvania Gazette

Notice that no newspapers were published on February 8 and 9, 1766. For those dates the methodology dictates selecting advertisements from either the Connecticut Gazette or the New-Hampshire Gazette. I know from experience that both of those can be rather slim pickings when it comes to advertisements for consumer goods and services. The Connecticut Gazette often did not feature any, while the New-Hampshire Gazette tended to reprint the same advertisements for multiple weeks.

This census helps to illustrate the somewhat surprising origins of the first 30 advertisements featured in 2016 (before my Public History students assumed their guest curator responsibilities). I included this list last week, but did not have sufficient space to evaluate it.

  • 7 advertisements: Massachusetts Gazette (Boston)
  • 7 advertisements: New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)
  • 4 advertisements: Newport Mercury
  • 3 advertisements: New-York Gazette
  • 3 advertisements: New-London Gazette
  • 2 advertisements: Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
  • 1 advertisement: Boston Evening-Post
  • 1 advertisement: Boston Gazette
  • 1 advertisement: Boston Post-Boy
  • 1 advertisement: New-York Mercury

In seeking to be current, to provide “the freshest advices foreign and domestick,” my methodology gives disproportionate attention to the New-Hampshire Gazette, a relatively minor newspaper from a relatively small town. (I know, I know: harsh words for what now bills itself as “The Nation’s Oldest Newspaper,” having been in continuous publication in one form or another since 1756.) The New-Hampshire Gazette did not publish nearly as many advertisements for consumer goods and services as its counterparts in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. That the New-Hampshire Gazette has been featured so prominently is a consequence of selecting advertisements from the most recently published newspaper on any given date.

The New-Hampshire Gazette and the New-London Gazette, which included even fewer advertisements, were printed on Fridays in 1766. No newspapers were printed on Saturdays or Sundays. As a result, my methodology prescribes that I select advertisements from these two publications three days of the week. Sometimes neither featured enough advertisements to make this possible, forcing me to go back to the Massachusetts Gazette, which also helps to explain why so many advertisements featured here derive from its pages. (Keep in mind that I used accessed Early American Newspapers via my college throughout January, which meant that the Pennsylvania Gazette was not an option. Since my students are using the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources to access Early American Newspapers they have incorporated the Pennsylvania Gazette into this project. When I am once again responsible for selecting the featured advertisement each day I will incorporate an even greater number of publications by accessing Early American Newspapers in the reading room at the American Antiquarian Society.)

I’ll close today’s extended commentary by reiterating that the New-Hampshire Gazette has received disproportionate attention due to the methodology I have developed for pursuing this public history and digital humanities project, not solely due to variations in access to Early American Newspapers. Quite simply, newspapers were printed on the day they were printed. On the other hand, I have developed a much different sampling method for my book project. The methodology I use here would not be appropriate in a manuscript seeking to analyze the development of advertising in eighteenth-century America.

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