August 22

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Aug 22 - 8:16:20:1770South-Carolina Gazette Supplement
Note the holes on the right, left when removing a binding. Those holes are an important clue for correctly dating this page from an eighteenth-century newspaper. Continuation of the South-Carolina Gazette (August 16, 1770).

“ALL the STOCK of GOODS.”

Most advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers ran multiple times.  Compositors set the type once and then used it over and over, often moving advertisements around the page in order to make them fit with each other and the news, editorials, and other content that comprised the rest of the issue.  This streamlined the production of colonial newspapers since compositors did not have to set type for every item that appeared in every issue.

When I did the initial research to select an advertisement to feature today, I decided on an entire page rather than a single advertisement.  Why?  The entire page consisted of advertising reprinted in its entirety from a previous issue.  While compositors reused individual advertisements in practically every issue, reprinting an entire page was exceptionally unusual.  I cannot recall having seen an example of this in all of the eighteenth-century newspapers I have examined over the course of nearly two decades.

Alas, on closer examination I discovered that what I thought had happened did not actually happen.  An entire page of advertising was not reprinted, despite initial appearances.  Here’s what did happen.  Peter Timothy published a new edition of the South-Carolina Gazette on August 16, 1770.  That happened to be a Thursday, his usual day for distributing a new issue.  It was a standard four-page issue created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Timothy had too much content to fit everything into those four pages, likely because he had to resort to smaller sheets than usual, so he published four-page Continuation of the South-Carolina Gazette on the same day.  Issuing some sort of “supplement,” “postscript”, or “continuation” was standard practice, especially for newspapers published in the largest port cities.  Prior to the American Revolution, most newspaper printers produced one issue per week, sometimes accompanied by a supplement.  On rare occasions, they distributed a supplement in the middle of the week.  Timothy did so in August 1770, printing a Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette on Monday, August 20, four days after the regular issue and its Continuation.

Here’s what I initially thought happened, but eventually discovered did not actually happen.  The Supplement published on August 20 included an entire page of advertising reprinted from the Continuation of August 16.  When I looked more closely, however, I noticed that the Supplement consisted of three pages.  That was extremely unlikely.  Eighteenth-century printers almost never released standard editions or supplements with an odd number of pages.  Doing so meant blank pages, a waste of precious paper.  I originally assumed that the reprinted page had resulted from the compositor using it as filler in order to avoid circulating a blank page when the news that merited a midweek supplement fell short of filling an entire broadsheet.  In that case, the reprinted page should brought the number of pages to two or four, but not three.  A supplement consisting of three pages, with the reprinted page as the second page, did not make much sense, especially since the sentence from the bottom of the first page continued at the top of the third page.

When I looked more closely at the images of the original page in the Continuation from August 16 and the Supplement from August 20, I noticed that not only did all of the advertisements appear in the same order but the edges of the paper and holes left from binding that had been undone were identical.  These were not two separate pages.  Instead, they were digital images of the same page!

I recently examined another page of a newspaper published in Charleston, South Carolina, in August 1770 that had been mistakenly included as part of another issue (and another newspaper) in the production of a database of digitized images of eighteenth-century newspapers.  In both cases, the digital archive provided enough clues that I eventually realized something did not match the usual practices of eighteenth-century printers.  Especially in this instance, however, the error was not readily apparent.  I discovered it only because I decided to work so intensively with a particular page of the South-Carolina Gazette.  Others who consulted the same digital resource, even experienced researchers, might not have noticed the discrepancy if they did not happen to be specialists in eighteenth-century print culture, particularly newspaper production.

This is an error that would not have happened when consulting the original documents.  The fourth page of the Continuation would have been on the other side of the third page of the Continuation.  It would not have been possible to view it as somehow appearing between the first page of the Supplement and the supposed third page of the Supplement (actually the second page on the other side of the sheet for the first page).  Digital images of individual pages untether them from the rest of the issue in which they appeared.  Digital archives increase access to primary sources.  The Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project would not be possible without the several databases of digitized newspapers that remediate eighteenth-century sources for wider dissemination.  Yet readers need to be savvy when they consult such databases since digital renditions, such as images of individual pages, become subject to errors not possible when consulting original documents.

Aug 20 1770 - South-Carolina Gazette Supplement Page 2
This page mistakenly appears as the second page of the Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (August 20, 1770) in Accessible Archives’s collection of South Carolina Newspapers.  It also correctly appears as the fourth page of the Continuation of the South-Carolina Gazette (August 16, 1770).

August 12

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week (or last week)?

Aug 12 - 8:2:1770 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (August 2, 1770).

“The Price of FLOUR.”

The new semester will soon begin.  With it, undergraduate students will once again make contributions to the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  That work gives them experience working in digital archives.  As every historian knows, the archives, including digital archives, sometimes present mysteries to be solved and problems to figure out.  That is one of my favorite parts of working with undergraduates on these digital humanities projects:  they develop sufficient familiarity with digital archives that they recognize inconsistencies in how information is presented and then investigate how to explain or resolve those inconsistencies.

Such is the case with the August 9, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette available via Accessible Archives.  Before looking at that issue more closely, I believe that it is important to acknowledge that the inconsistencies present in the digital presentation of this newspaper are the result of the sort of human error that makes its way into any cataloging project.  Yet archivists, catalogers, and others who work in the archives or contribute to the production of digital archives are not alone in introducing errors into the presentation, organization, and citation of historical sources.  Historians and other scholars who rely on the careful work done by archivists make their own errors that they then have to unravel, often with the help of archivists who generously lend their own expertise.  Throughout the production of the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, for instance, I gather significant numbers of digitized primary sources from multiple databases and attempt to impose order on them with consistent filename conventions.  However, no matter how carefully I go about collecting and organizing these materials, I sometimes introduce mistakes through simple human error.  That being the case, the examination of the South-Carolina Gazette that follows is not intended as an indictment of the work done by archivists and others in making that newspaper accessible to readers, but instead a celebration of the occasional quirkiness of the archive.  This is an example of a mini-mystery easily solved and resolved, even by novice researchers who are having their first experiences in the (digitized) archive.

Accessible Archives’s digitized representation of the August 9, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette consists of nine pages.  In and of itself, that should raise a red flag for anyone with rudimentary familiarity with eighteenth-century newspapers.  Most consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  When printers issued supplements, some had six or eight pages, but, in general, newspapers tended to have an even number of pages.  Printers did not usually leave any space blank by circulating supplements printed on only one side.  So, the nine pages in the August 9 issue raises questions.  Eight of those pages contained two columns, but the second page included three.  Readers with greater experience working with digitized newspapers would recognize at a glance that the pages with two columns and the page with three columns were printed on sheets of different sizes; novice researchers should at least notice the difference in format.  Apparently, Peter Timothy, the printer, did not have access to larger sheets for three columns per page on four pages and instead opted to print two columns per page on eight pages using smaller sheets.  Even if readers are not certain of the origins of the questionable page, they can figure out that the page with three columns does not belong with the August 9 issue.  Readers with more experience also note that the page with three columns has a colophon at the bottom, a feature reserved for the final page rather than the second or any other page.  (Note the colophon immediately below the advertisement in the image above.)  A news item in the first column includes this dateline:  “CHARLES-TOWN, AUGUST 2.”  This suggests that the orphan page most likely belongs with the previous edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, the issue published on August 2, 1770.  Sure enough, Accessible Archives includes it as the final page of that issue.

How did it end up as part of the August 9 edition in the archive of digitized newspapers I downloaded and compiled for easy reference?  My first thought was that I had perhaps not been careful enough in naming the digital file.  As a user of the archive, had I introduced incorrect information through human error when I gathered research materials to consult at a later time?  Talk to anyone who works in a research library and you will hear stories of scholars contacting them weeks, months, or even years later for more information about sources because the scholars have questions about their own inadequate notes and citations.  When I consulted Accessible Archives, I discovered that their August 9 edition includes the extra page.  In this case, the human error was not my own, though it certainly has been on other occasions.  Somehow the digitized image of the fourth page of the August 2 edition was inserted twice in the digital archive, once in the appropriate place as the final page of the August 2 issue and once as the second page of the August 9 issue.  Thanks to a variety of context clues – odd number of pages, discrepancy in the number of columns, colophon in an unexpected place, dated news items – figuring out where the page belonged was fairly straightforward for someone with extensive experience using archives of digitized eighteenth-century newspapers.  Novice researchers, such as undergraduate students in my classes, would have been able to note that one of the pages in the August 9 edition did not belong, even if they did not yet understand where the page should have appeared in the digital archive.  In my experience, when undergraduates spot this sort of minor idiosyncrasy in the digital archive, it enhances their confidence as researchers.  Their initial confusion motivates them to figure out the problem and consult with me when they encounter something that does not accord with their expectations after their experiences working with a digital archive that is otherwise consistently organized.  For me, the minor inconvenience caused by a small human error in the much more expansive digital archive is worth the teachable moment as undergraduates learn to navigate how primary sources have been cataloged and presented for consumption.  Even when I’m not working with undergraduates, this sort of mini-mystery can be a pleasure to solve.

This example merits one additional comment about the difference between using the digital archive and consulting original documents in an archive.  The remediation of the August 2, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette made it possible for one of the pages to inadvertently get inserted a second time as part of the issue published a week later.  It would have been impossible for readers to encounter such an error when consulting the originals, though they very well could introduce their own errors when taking photographs and notes.  Consulting digital archives sometimes presents its own challenges.  Historians and other scholars cannot be oblivious to the good work done by archivists of various sorts or else they will not be able to recognize mysteries to be solved on those rare occasions that human error introduces discrepancies into the archive.

May 25

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

May 25 - 5:25:1770 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (May 25, 1770).

I the Subscriber now carry on the Hatting Business.”

Witnessing the sense of accomplishment that undergraduate students experience when they work with digitized primary sources is one of my favorite parts of having them serve as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project when they enroll in my Colonial America, Revolutionary America, Slavery in America, Public History, and Research Methods courses.  Much of that sense of accomplishment comes from learning to read eighteenth-century newspapers, a more difficult task than some initially expect.

Consider this advertisement from the May 25, 1770, edition of the New-London Gazette.  It is not indecipherable, but it does require some effort to read, even for those with experience working with eighteenth-century newspapers.  The quality of the printing and the paper, including text bleeding through from the other side of the page, makes the advertisement more difficult to read than the crisp and clear text in books and articles students are more accustomed to reading.  They discover that historians must work with primary sources of varying condition.  The deviations in spelling compared to twenty-first century standards also present a minor challenge, including “Hatts” for “Hats,” “Furr” for “Fur,” and “chuse” for “choose” in this advertisement.  Shifts in the meaning of words over a quarter of a millennium also allow opportunities to consider context in the process of understanding what advertisers said when they used language that now seems strange.  In this advertisement, William Capron described himself as “I the Subscriber,” but he did not mean that he paid to receive the newspaper.  Instead, he deployed the common eighteenth-century usage of the word “subscriber” to mean “a person who signs his or her name to a document,” in this case the advertisement itself.

Perhaps the most significant sense of achievement for many students comes from decoding the “long “s” that they initially mistake for an “f” in eighteenth-century newspapers and other primary sources.  In this advertisement, Capron addressed his “former Customers, present Creditors, and the Public in general,” but to students with less experience reading such sources this phrase initially appears to say “former Cuftomers, prefent Creditors, and the Public.”  “Hatting Business” looks like “Hatting Bufinefs” and “too short for spinning” looks like “too fhort for fpinning.”  That Capron’s advertisement appeared in italics further compounds the difficulty for some readers.  For my part, I’ve become so accustomed to the “long s” that I no longer notice it.  When I began working with students on the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, however, I quickly became aware that I took for granted how easily others with less experience reading eighteenth-century newspapers would adapt to the “long s.”  As an instructor, I’ve learned to take more time and to make more allowances for students to become comfortable with that particular element of eighteenth-century print culture.  I also reassure them that they will eventually recognize the “long s” merely as an “s.”  They might not even realize when the transition happens!

Primary sources of any sort are the cornerstone of college-level history courses.  In the absence of special collections and research libraries with original documents, access to digitized primary sources allows me to replicate the experience of working with materials from the eighteenth century.  In the process, students get a better sense of what how historians “do” history as they encounter and overcome these and other challenges.

April 18

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Apr 18 - 4:18:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (April 18, 1770).

“LOST … A GREEN SILK UMBRELLA.”

An advertisement offering a reward for the return of a lost ‘GREEN SILK UMBRELLA” appeared in the April 18, 1770, edition of the Georgia Gazette.  It ran at the bottom of the first column of the second page.  Unfortunately, a portion of the advertisement is missing from the digital image available via Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers database.

Apr 18 - Clarence Calendar
Calendar from Clarence: Denotes Issues of Georgia Gazette in the Collections of the American Antiquarian Society

Yet consulting another digital resource, Clarence:  Newspaper Holdings of the American Antiquarian Society, makes clear that Readex faithfully captured an image of the April 18 edition in its extant status in the archive.  According to the American Antiquarian Society, “Clarence is named in honor of Clarence S. Brigham (1877-1963), a man pivotal in the building of the AAS newspaper collection.  Brigham began his service to AAS in 1980 as its librarian and retired in 1959 as its director.”  Brigham is well known among scholars of early American print culture for his monumental History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 (1947).

Apr 18 - Readex Calendar
Calendar from America’s Historical Newspapers: Denotes Issues of Georgia Gazette in that Database

The Clarence database appropriately provides detailed information about the newspapers in the collections at AAS.  It does not, however, provide digital images.  The AAS and Readex partnered to create America’s Historical Newspapers. Although Readex also worked with other research libraries to produce its database, the calendars in Clarence and America’s Historical Newspapers indicate that the digital images in the latter come from original sources at the AAS.  Although Brigham’s bibliography reports that the Georgia Gazette continued publication until 1776, the AAS has issues only through May 23, 1770.  Compare the calendar from Clarence to the calendar from America’s Historical Newspapers.  They match, indicating that the images of the Georgia Gazette in Readex’s database did indeed come from the originals in the collections at the AAS.  For further confirmation, note the status of the issues at the AAS.  Those denoted with a blue box are “whole” according to the legend, while those denoted with a red box are “damaged.”  All of the digital images missing the bottom of the page in America’s Historical Newspapers correspond to damaged newspapers at the AAS.

Close examination of the digital images on their own suggest that they are accurate renderings of the originals in the archive, but working back and forth between the two digital resources confirms that is the case and tells a more complete story of the sources available to historians and other scholars.

December 13

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Dec 13 - 12:13:1769 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (December 13, 1769).

“GEORGE COOKE, & Co. Have imported … [illegible].”

The Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project are made possible by databases of eighteenth-century newspapers that have been digitized in order to make them more accessible to scholars and other readers. Such databases have revolutionized the work done by historians, allowing them to ask – and answer – questions that would have been impractical or impossible to consider just a couple of decades ago. Various tools, including keyword searches that rely on optical character recognition, allow historians to streamline their research methods as they efficiently identify sources that otherwise would have been overlooked.

To some extent, the production of digital surrogates for primary sources has democratized the research process, making historical documents more widely accessible. Historians and other scholars no longer need to visit libraries, archives, and historical societies to gain access to original sources. Instead, they can access many of them (including eighteenth-century newspapers) from anywhere they have a reliable internet connection. This democratization of access to digital surrogates is sometimes limited by access to financial resources. Consider the databases consulted for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. Colonial Williamsburg makes its database of eighteenth-century newspapers published in Virginia freely available to the public. Accessible Archives and Readex, however, have different business models for South Carolina Newspapers and America’s Historical Newspapers, respectively. Both are available only by subscription. Some institutions can afford access to those databases; others cannot. I am fortunate that my college has a subscription to America’s Historical Newspapers. I am also fortunate that Accessible Archives has an individual subscription option at a reasonable price. It provides limited access compared to an institutional subscription, but it is sufficient for my purposes and the projects I have designed.

Even though scholars and other users benefit from these databases, they also learn that accessibility does not necessarily mean legibility. In some instances, the original sources have been damaged, but in many others poor photography or other shortcomings of the remediation process produce digital surrogates that are accessible but not legible. Consider George Cooke and Company’s advertisement from the front page of the December 13, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Some of it is legible; other portions are not. An experienced reader can carefully work through much of the advertisement, filling in the gaps by considering both context and prior knowledge of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements for consumer goods. Inexperienced readers would not derive nearly as much information from this advertisement, nor would keyword searches that rely on optical character recognition reach the same conclusions as a human reader.

Digitization has forever changed historical research methods, but digital surrogates do not replace original sources. Digital surrogates come with their own set of limitations that scholars must take into consideration. They make sources more accessible – sometimes. Both subscription fees and illegible remediations of original sources limit the usefulness of digital surrogates.

February 25

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Holleran

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

feb-25-2251767-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (February 25, 1767).

“Brought to the Work-house, A NEGROE FELLOW, middle aged.”

This advertisement caught my attention because it is an advertisement about runaway slaves. After doing further research on runaway slaves, I discovered that advertisements like this were very common during this period. Advertisements similar to this one were used to recapture slaves and indentured servants. They listed specific physical characteristics, such as height and clothing. The abundance of slavery advertisements is why the Slavery Adverts 250 Project also exists. Slavery was such an important part of society and the colonists’ economy at this time that slavery advertisements were abundant in many eighteenth-century newspapers.

Sadly, according to Tom Costa, advertisements sometimes did not need to be posted because many slave owners would recapture their slaves within one to two weeks of their escape. Costa also states that many slave owners would only put out advertisements if the runaway was seen as valuable. Unfortunately, advertisements such as these often made it nearly impossible for slaves to escape to freedom.

Many slavery advertisements, spanning several decades, have been digitized and made available for the public to view in the Virginia Gazette. The Virginia Gazette is the only colonial and revolutionary-era newspaper that has been digitized and made available to the general public, providing the ability to view many advertisements similar to this one from the colonial and revolutionary eras. Also, other slavery advertisements are easy to view via the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. This project also provides the public with hundreds of slavery advertisements from 250 years ago, emphasizing how commonplace slavery advertisements were. The Slavery Adverts 250 Project includes slavery advertisements published in newspapers throughout all of the colonies.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

As the guest curators from my Revolutionary America class and I work on this project together, we have many opportunities to discuss methodology, primary and secondary sources, and the availability of digitized documents to scholars and the general public. In the process, my students gain a better understanding of both the past and how historians pursue their work.

From now until the end of the semester, visitors to the Adverts 250 Project may notice that each student incorporates at least one advertisement concerning slavery into her or his week serving as guest curator. This complements the work that each will conduct when curating the companion Slavery Adverts 250 Project during a different week, giving each an opportunity to examine at least one slavery advertisement in greater detail.

Today, Shannon offers important observations about the accessibility of eighteenth-century newspapers, including the advertisements for slaves that prominently appeared in them. To complete their work on both the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, students consult several databases of digitized newspapers as they draw material from the nearly two dozen published in the colonies in 1767. They complete most of their research using Readex’s Early American Newspapers, available via databases linked on the campus library’s website. That particular subscription, however, does not include all of the eighteenth-century newspapers Readex has digitized. When students visit the reading room at the American Antiquarian Society they have access to Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers, which includes all of the newspapers available via Early American Newspapers as well as the Pennsylvania Gazette (perhaps the most important eighteenth-century American newspaper) and both versions of the Virginia Gazette published in 1767 (one by Purdie and Dixon and one by Rind). Students must also visit the American Antiquarian Society to access three newspapers printed in Charleston, South Carolina, via Accessible Archives.

As Shannon notes, it is not necessary to visit a research library or have remote access to their digital resources to examine the Virginia Gazette. Colonial Williamsburg has made these sources available to the general public via their Digital Library, which also includes manuscripts, research reports, and York County estate inventories. This collection of newspapers includes several publications (or continuations of publications with new printers) all published under the title Virginia Gazette: Parks (1736-1740, 1745-1746), Hunter (1751-1757, 1759, 1761), Royle (1762, 1763, 1765), Purdie and Dixon (1766-1774), Rind (1766-1774), Pinkney (1774-1776), Dixon and Hunter (1775-1778), Purdie (1775-1778), Clarkson and Davis (1779-1780), and Dixon and Nicholson (1779-1780).

The Adverts 250 Project includes a daily digest of all slavery advertisements published 250 years ago that day. The citations for advertisements from the Virginia Gazette always includes a link that takes readers to Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library, directly to the correct page of the newspaper so readers can examine each advertisement in its original context. Each advertisement tells an important story of human bondage, but they tell even richer and more complete stories when not disembodied from the other advertisements, news items, and other content that accompanied them. It’s not possible for the Adverts 250 Project or the Slavery Adverts 250 Project to provide that kind of access to every eighteenth-century newspaper. Colonial Williamsburg offers unique access to the Virginia Gazette to all readers, not just those associated with colleges and universities or major research institutions.

 

An Evening of Poetry at the American Antiquarian Society: Review of Citizen Poets of Boston

The American Antiquarian Society sponsors a robust series of Public Programs each fall and spring. I was especially interested in the most recent entry, last week’s “The Citizen Poets of Boston: A Collection of Forgotten Poems” by Paul Lewis (English, Boston College), because it originated as a class project that relied significantly on digital humanities resources. Lewis was joined for the evening by Harrison Kent and Alexandra Mitropoulos, former students who worked on the project as undergraduates.

The title for the evening’s event came from the recently published The Citizen Poets of Boston: A Collection of Forgotten Poems, 1789-1820 (University Press of New England, 2016), an anthology of mostly anonymous poems published in literary magazines in the era of the Early Republic. The book, however, was not the original goal of the advanced undergraduate seminar that located and identified the poems; instead, it evolved out of an exhibition, “Forgotten Chapters of Boston’s Literary History.” Lewis and his students originally sought to examine “poems so bad they were delightfully amateurish” that still managed to make their way into print in the decades immediately after the Revolution and ratification of the Constitution, but their research took them in new directions as they discovered a treasure trove of forgotten and overlooked poetry that was good, interesting, and told local stories.

May 13 - Citizen Poets
The Citizen Poets of Boston

Lewis, Kent, and Mitropoulos explained that 427 magazines were published in the United States during the early national period. Most magazines incorporated at least some poetry as a standard feature, but many did so quite extensively. More than 30,000 poems appeared in those magazines. Lewis and his students were especially interested in Massachusetts (and primarily Boston, the center of magazine publication in the commonwealth during the period), combing through 59 magazines to identify and examine over 4500 poems.

This is a project that would not have been possible even a decade ago, at least not as a collaborative research project in an upper-level undergraduate seminar. It relied on intense archival work – digital archival work using the American Periodical Series and similar resources. The American Periodical Series includes digitized images of magazines printed from the colonial period to the turn of the twentieth century. Gathering digital surrogates for the original magazines together in one place eliminates several of the obstacles that researchers in earlier generations faced. Images of each page are readily available, making it unnecessary to travel to distant libraries and historical institutions. In effect, digital sources bring the archives to researchers, including students who otherwise would not have such extensive access to primary sources. (This assumes that an educational institution has the funds to purchase a subscription to the American Periodical Series and similar databases of early American primary sources. Many smaller colleges and universities do not, but that digital divide is a topic for another time. Still, I want to be clear that although digitized sources make new projects and pedagogy possible, unequal access means digitization is not a panacea.)

Lewis and his students were able to consult the 59 magazines printed in Massachusetts in the early national period relatively easily, though the project was still labor intensive even with the digital resources. As they identified and sifted through more than 4500 poems they decided to focus on poetry that revealed life in early Boston. Doing so required learning about publication and republication practices of the era. For instance, in efforts to fill their pages editors often inserted material copied directly from British periodicals in the absence of international copyright laws. Lewis and his students discarded those poems. They also discovered that editors frequently issued invitations to readers to submit their own poetry, invitations that anonymous poets eagerly accepted. Since magazine distribution was relatively limited during the period – most circulated primarily within the city of publication – these poems often revealed much about local culture in Boston. (Lewis suggested that other teams of scholars and students could pursue similar projects in Philadelphia, New York, and other urban centers.) In addition to inviting readers to submit original poetry, editors also solicited poems in response to other poems, creating conversations among readers from issue to issue. The anonymous poets often learned whether their work had been accepted or rejected in the pages of the magazines themselves; rather than communicating privately with these “citizen poets,” editors created a feature, “Acknowledgments to Correspondents,” in which they praised or disparaged the poems submitted to them.

Who were these citizen poets? Lewis and his students explored the democratizing effects of publishing poetry by anonymous authors in the literary magazines of the Early Republic. Although most of the authors cannot be identified definitively, many were surely women. Quite possibly some were non-whites. Anonymous publication allows – then and now – for imaginative readings of the identity of those citizen poets since their gender, race, and class remained hidden. The “citizen” in citizen poet accordingly refers to anybody who chose to participate in the conversations and debates pursued in verse rather than the more narrow confines of who was eligible to vote in the early national period. Poetry elicited broad civic participation as a variety of readers made contributions to public discourses. For instance, provocatively misogynistic poems generated responses. Lewis and his students documented poems and “anti-poems” that responded to each other over the course of several issues. Many poems expressed the hopes and anxieties of various Boston residents as they contemplated their role in early American society, including a poem about a young seamstress preparing for her marriage. She hoped that her husband would sometimes “let me wear the breeches.” Whether written by a woman or not, this poem indicates that everyday Bostonians grappled with the social roles and political rights of women in the era of the Early Republic.

Lewis and his students underscored that these forgotten poems reveal lively, open, and engaged interactions among readers. They offer glimpses of everyday life – relationships between men and women, labor and occupations, politics, family life, entertainment and pleasures – that might seem foreign to modern readers. In that regard, the poems in The Citizen Poets of Boston are a valuable resource for scholars, teachers, and students. However, I am just as interested in the process: the methodology that made that anthology possible. Using digitized sources to pursue such an extensive project helped to make possible a model of professor-student collaborative work that fulfilled some of the best ideals of scholars incorporating their own research into the classroom to create richer educational experiences. The digital revolution helps to make possible a greater array of “hands-on humanities” projects that engage both scholars and students and ultimately yield significant results.

In Which One Digital Archive Nearly Replicates One Existing Archive

In recent weeks I’ve spilled a fair amount of ink considering how both methodology and access shape the Adverts 250 Project. I’ve demonstrated three different levels of access to newspapers printed in 1766 included in Early American Newspapers: 14 via my college’s library, 15 via the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources (including the extremely significant addition of the Pennsylvania Gazette) and 21 via the digital resources available in the reading room at the American Antiquarian Society (which has access to all the titles in Early American Newspapers because the AAS and Readex are partners in the endeavor).

I’ve also demonstrated how my methodology for selecting advertisements (each must come from that date or a newspaper published most immediately before that date in cases of no newspapers printed on a particular date) has caused certain newspapers to receive disproportionate coverage due to most newspapers being published at the beginning of the week and relatively few at the end.

Feb 19 - Masthead for New-York Gazette 2:18:1766
Masthead for an Extraordinary (“Extra”) to the New-York Gazette (February 18, 1766).

I’ve made promises that when my Public History students’ tenure as guest curators comes to an end that I will resort to the resources available in the AAS’s reading room as a means of featuring a greater number of publications and achieving more extended geographic reach.

 

However unintentionally, I may have implied that accessing Early American Newspapers at the American Antiquarian Society means that I am working from a complete archive of publications from 1766. There are several reasons why this assumption is not completely accurate. The project will be migrating toward the best possible digital access, but that is not the same as complete access to every newspaper in an archive. Today I’d like to examine how closely the most extensive access to Early American Newspapers mirrors what is available in the stacks at the AAS.

Recall that I previously identified these newspapers printed at some point in 1766 (from Edward Connery Lathem’s Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1690-1820) that are not available via even the AAS’s most extensive access to Early American Newspapers.

New Hampshire

  • Portsmouth Mercury (last known September 29)

New York

  • New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy

Pennsylvania

  • [Germantown] Wahre und Wahrscheinliche Begebenheiten (only known February 24)

North Carolina

  • [Wilmington] North-Carolina Gazette (last known February 26)

South Carolina

  • [Charleston] South-Carolina and American General Gazette
  • [Charleston] South-Carolina Gazette (suspended starting October 31, 1765; resumed June 2, 1766)
  • [Charleston] South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
Feb 19 - Masthead for Connecticut Courant 2:17:1766
Masthead for the Connecticut Courant (February 17, 1766).

I consulted the AAS’s online catalog and, especially, Clarence to find out if the AAS collections included these newspapers. (Clarence – named for Clarence Brigham, librarian (1908-1930) and director (1930-1959) of the AAS and author of the two-volume History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 – is a database that indicates which specific issues of early American newspapers are in the AAS collections, replicating and updating portions of Brigham’s monumental bibliography.) Here’s what I discovered:

 

  • Portsmouth Mercury: scattered issues from 1766.
  • New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy: weekly issues and occasional supplements through October 9.
  • Wahre und Wahrscheinliche Begebenheiten: photostat copy of only known issue (as indicated in the catalog record; Clarence does not specify this detail).
  • North-Carolina Gazette: AAS does not possess any issues.
  • South-Carolina and American General Gazette: scattered issues from 1768 through 1778, but none from 1766.
  • South-Carolina Gazette: one damaged issue from 1766 along with scattered issues from 1737, 1740, 1760, 1763, 1767, 1768, 1770, 1772, and 1774.
  • South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal: scattered issues from 1766 as well as scattered issues from 1768 through 1775.

Based on these findings, it appears that digital access to newspapers printed in 1766 via Early American Newspapers very nearly replicates the holdings of the American Antiquarian Society. For the most part, the AAS possesses only scattered issues of the titles not included in Early American Newspapers. This is a major achievement that allows researchers to view the contents of these publications while also preserving the originals.

For the purposes of this project, a digital archive that nearly completely replicates the newspaper holdings of the AAS (at least, those printed in 1766) also streamlines the research process. Having compiled a calendar of which newspapers were printed on which dates in 1766, I can quickly scan the relevant issues when selecting an advertisement to feature on any given date. I imagine that the reading room staff at the AAS also appreciates that I am not repeatedly requesting large bound volumes of eighteenth-century newspapers that they then have to page, process, deliver to me, and later return to their designated places in the closed stacks.

On the other hand, for other sorts of projects, the research process goes much more smoothly and efficiently when I can quickly – but carefully – flip through the pages of a bound volume of newspapers, scanning for particular content. To preserve the originals, scrolling through microfilm copies serves the same purpose. When it’s necessary to examine a large number of issues published sequentially, digital access via Early American Newspapers can be slow and cumbersome by comparison. That’s not a criticism but rather recognition that digital surrogates are not always the best format for conducting research. (On the flip side, the ability to do keyword searches in Early American Newspapers can streamline the research process significantly. I’ll write more about the virtues and imperfections of keyword searching digitized newspapers some other time.)

Feb 19 - Masthead for Boston Evening-Post 2:17:1766
Masthead for the Boston Evening-Post (February 17, 1766).

I noted above that in the coming months this project will migrate to the best possible digital access, but that is not the same as complete access to every newspaper in an archive (although in this case it is really close). Next week I will consider the difference between access to every newspaper in an archive and access to every newspaper printed. Once again, these distinctions may seem merely academic at first glance, but I continue to maintain that researchers must be aware of the scope and limitations of their resources and we have an obligation to others who read our work to share that information.

 

As I consider these issues, I keep returning to two of the main arguments presented by Kenneth Carpenter (Harvard Libraries, retired) and Michael Winship (English, University of Texas – Austin) in their keynote address at the Digital Antiquarian Conference last May: (1) digital sources should be consulted as complements to, rather than replacements for, original sources and (2) be conscious of the metadata that provides the foundation for digitized sources so you know how closely digital surrogates replicate original documents.

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.

In Which Bibliography of Early American Newspapers Is Too Much of a Good Thing

Bibliographers of early American newspapers, rejoice! You’re going to love the details in this post. Others may not be as enthusiastic about comparing which newspapers are accessible via which archives. If you’re in that camp, I invite you to skip to the final two paragraphs where I sum up why the (excessive) details are important.

Last week I concluded my post on the incompleteness of the digital archive by promising to explore varying levels of access to Early American Newspapers and how that shapes the scope of this project. To get started at that, I’d like to offer a census of the advertisements featured from January 1-30, the period before my students assumed their duties as guest curators.

The first thirty advertisements for 2016 (1766) came from:

  • 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
Feb 5 - New-York Gazette Masthead 2:3:1766
Masthead for the New-York Gazette (February 3, 1766).

As I’ve previously explained, my first priority is to choose an advertisement published on that date 250 years earlier or, in the case of dates on which no newspaper was published, an advertisement from a newspaper printed as close to that date as possible (but before that date: it must come from a newspaper that would have been available to readers somewhere in colonial America 250 years earlier). My secondary consideration is to move around geographically as much as possible. Given these guiding principles, I still contend that I have achieved appropriate coverage based on the resources available to me, namely my college’s access to Early American Newspapers.

That turns out, however, to be a limiting factor that has significantly influenced the shape and scope of this project so far. What do I mean? It turns out that varying levels of access to Early America Newspapers are available. For a variety of reasons, access to Early American Newspapers is not consistent from institution to institution.

Let’s say that I want to continue to pursue this project exclusively from my chair in my office and my couch in my living room. As a resident of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, I qualify for a digital library card that allows me to access a variety of electronic resources via the Boston Public Library’s website. (Thank you, Boston Public Library!) When I access Early American Newspapers via the BPL’s website I have access to one additional and very important newspaper: the Pennsylvania Gazette (previously published by Benjamin Franklin, but undertaken by the partnership of David Hall and William Sellers throughout most of 1766 and the next several years).

Otherwise the two institutions provide identical access: the Pennsylvania Gazette is the only additional newspaper available via the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources.

For the sake of simplicity (too late, I know…), let’s consider all the newspapers published at some point in 1766 available through my college library’s access to Early American Newspapers and via the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources.

New Hampshire

  • New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)

Massachusetts

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston News-Letter
  • Boston Post-Boy

Rhode Island

  • Newport Mercury
  • Providence Gazette

Connecticut

  • Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
  • Connecticut Gazette (New London)

New York

  • New-York Gazette
  • New-York Journal
  • New-York Mercury

Pennsylvania

  • Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia) [Boston Public Library only]
  • Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote (Philadelphia)

Georgia

  • Georgia Gazette (Savannah)

Accessing Early American Newspapers via my college library’s databases, this amounts to 14 newspapers from 9 cities in 7 colonies. New England, the Middle Atlantic, and the Lower South are all represented, but the Chesapeake is missing. The Boston Public Library’s access yields similar numbers: 15 newspapers from 9 cities in 7 colonies, covering the same regions.

Feb 5 - Newport Mercury Masthead 2:3:1766
Masthead for the Newport Mercury (February 3, 1766).

As I mentioned last week, Edward Connery Lathem’s Chronological Tables of American Newspapers indicates that 28 newspapers were published in 15 cities in 11 colonies at some point in 1766. With the addition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources get closer to a complete archive, but that gain is not nearly as significant as what happens when consulting the access available in the reading room at the American Antiquarian Society, which has partnered with Readex in making eighteenth- and nineteenth-century newspapers digitally accessible. (Thank you, American Antiquarian Society! Thank you, Readex!) Here are the newspapers printed in 1766 I am able to access via Early American Newspapers in the reading room at the AAS. The six not accessible via my college library or the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources are listed in bold.

New Hampshire

  • New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)

Massachusetts

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston News-Letter
  • Boston Post-Boy

Rhode Island

  • Newport Mercury
  • Providence Gazette

Connecticut

  • Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
  • Connecticut Gazette (New Haven)
  • Connecticut Gazette (New London)

New York

  • New-York Gazette
  • New-York Journal
  • New-York Mercury

Pennsylvania

  • Germantowner Zeitung (Germantown)
  • Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia)
  • Pennsylvania Journal (Philadelphia)
  • Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote (Philadelphia)

Maryland

  • Maryland Gazette (Annapolis)

Virginia

  • Virginia Gazette [Hunter] (Williamsburg)
  • Virginia Gazette [Rind] (Williamsburg)

Georgia

  • Georgia Gazette (Savannah)

[In addition, it is possible to access five newspapers printed in 1766 in Britain’s colonies in the West Indies: the Antiqua Gazette, the Barbados Mercury, the Kingston Journal (Jamaica), the Royal Grenada Gazette, and the St. Christopher’s Gazette (Saint Kitts).]

Among the colonies that eventually became the United States, this amounts to 21 newspapers published in 13 cities in 9 colonies. Both of the Chesapeake colonies are included, leaving the Lower South the least represented. This is especially unfortunate given that Charleston, South Carolina, was one of the largest cities in colonial America (and a major port for the transatlantic slave trade). Advertisements for runaway slaves as well as notices about buying and selling enslaved men, women, and children appeared frequently in other newspapers, including those published in northern colonies, but the absence of newspapers from Charleston will continue to skew the kinds of advertisements available for inclusion in this project.

Feb 5 - Pennsylvania Gazette Masthead 1:30:1766
Masthead for the Pennsylvania Gazette (January 30, 1766).

Of the 28 newspapers Lathem indicates were published at some point in 1766, these seven cannot be accessed via Early American Newspapers at the AAS.

New Hampshire

  • Portsmouth Mercury (last known September 29)

New York

  • New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy

Pennsylvania

  • [Germantown] Wahre und Wahrscheinliche Begebenheiten (only known February 24)

North Carolina

  • [Wilmington] North-Carolina Gazette (last known February 26)

South Carolina

  • [Charleston] South-Carolina and American General Gazette
  • [Charleston] South-Carolina Gazette (resumed June 2)
  • [Charleston] South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal

Given that several of these newspapers either had short runs or were not consistently published throughout 1766, the digital archive of newspapers from that year that can be accessed at the American Antiquarian Society seems remarkably complete (with the unfortunate exception of newspapers from South Carolina). Imagine the scope of this project made possible when pursuing it at the AAS!

Feb 5 - New-Hampshire Gazette Masthead 1:31:1766
Masthead for the New-Hampshire Gazette (January 31, 1766).

I’ve gathered a lot of data to make this point: the scope and possibilities of this project are contingent on varying levels of access to the various titles in Early American Newspapers. To this point I have incorporated only advertisements from newspapers I can access via my college library. My students who are acting as guest curators throughout much of this semester, however, are accessing Early American Newspapers via the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources. I wanted to give them more possibilities by including the Pennsylvania Gazette, but I also wanted them to be able to pursue this project from their dorm rooms or wherever they happen to have an Internet connection. For ten weeks the scope and coverage of the project will shift. Eventually, when I return to selecting advertisements myself, I will digitally access newspapers from the reading room at the American Antiquarian Society. This project will take on new contours. New England and the Middle Atlantic will no longer be privileged in the same ways. Instead, the Adverts 250 Project will achieve more even coverage.

Digitization is wonderful. I am grateful for the efforts of so many individuals and institutions for making it possible to access electronically so many early American newspapers and other sources. Yet researchers and our audiences need to be aware of the constraints on the sources we consult. As I argued last week, we have not (yet) achieved a complete digital archive. In turn, that fact shapes the work we do and the conclusions we are able to reach.