What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“STROUDS, duffils, flannels, coarse broad cloths.”
Remediation matters. A few days ago I had an opportunity to visit an introductory digital humanities class offered by WISE, the Worcester Institute for Senior Education. During my presentation, I introduced students to the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project as well as some of the databases of digitized newspapers that make those projects possible, including Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library and Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers. We discussed some of the advantages and challenges of working with digitized sources.
We began by acknowledging that any digital surrogate is, by definition, a remediation of an original document … and different processes of remediation have different effects. Consider Rae and Somerville’s advertisement in the November 15, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Both of these images come from Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers, yet they are not identical. One aspect of that database that I really appreciate is the ability to download an entire issue of a newspaper and then print a copy that I can mark in any way I like. When I view the Georgia Gazette via the database, Rae and Somerville’s advertisement looks like the first image. The variations achieved via greyscale make it relatively easy to recognize smudged ink, printing that bled through from the other side of the page, and foxing (or discoloration) of the paper. Downloading a copy to make it even more portable, however, yields a black-and-white image that does not include the same variations. As a result, the second image is more difficult to read. It is possible to download greyscale images from the database, but it requires more steps. In addition, pages must be downloaded individually rather than acquiring an entire issue at once.
This means that even though digital surrogates make eighteenth-century newspapers much more accessible beyond research libraries and historical societies, readers have very different experiences working with the various versions of digitized documents. Remediation does not necessarily mean producing exact replications of original sources. Instead, technologies alter images, some more than others. Scholars and others who consult digitized sources must take into account the challenges involved in reading those documents and alter their methodologies accordingly, especially when given access to multiple remediations of the same sources.