August 26

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

Aug 26 - 8:26:1767 Photo Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 26, 1767).

“INGLIS and HALL have just imported …”

Inglis and Hall were among the most frequent advertisers of consumer goods in the Georgia Gazette in 1767. Their multiple advertisements, however, remain hidden when relying on certain technologies, especially keyword searches in online databases, to uncover them.

Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers database makes the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project possible. In many ways, it is an invaluable resource, but no database is perfect. Current technologies, as cutting edge as they may be compared to previous methods of conducting historical research, sometimes constrain or skew the process. In some instances, for example, keyword searches of newspapers uncover far fewer results than examining individual issues page by page, column by column, in chronological order. Inglis and Hall’s advertisement makes for an interesting case study.

As part of the research process for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, I download a copy of every American newspaper published 250 years ago that day. This already requires a clarification: I only download those that have been digitized. Some are not yet available in digital format for online consultation; others have not survived into the twenty-first century and will never be available for consultation, neither original copies nor digital surrogates.

The most efficient way to download this material from America’s Historical Newspapers involves downloading an entire issue all at once. This process results in a multipage PDF of the newspaper. It transforms the digital photo seen in the online database into a format that can sometimes be more difficult to read. Note how the photo of Inglis and Hall’s advertisement above differs from the PDF rendering below. It is possible to download photos of individual pages. Given that most newspapers were four pages, but many were six when they included an advertising supplement, this method would take at least four times as long. For the purposes of this project, it is not practical to download photos rather than PDFs of the newspapers.

Aug 26 - 8:26:1767 PDF Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 26, 1767).

Next I print hard copies of every page of every newspaper so I can mark on them and more easily consult them than if they remained strictly in digital format. Despite the comparatively poor visual quality of the PDF version, once I have printed hard copies I can work back and forth between the PDF and the more clear (but not always crisp) photos in the database when necessary.

In the case of Inglis and Hall’s advertisement, I can make out what it says in the PDF version, but I consider the photo easier to read (and more attractive and accessible for readers of the Adverts 250 Project). Still, I have to work at decoding the advertisement. Given that this takes me some effort, imagine how confusing it must be for OCR software. In fact, OCR cannot accurately read Inglis and Hall’s advertisement, not even the slightly clearer photo.

I assumed that would be the case. To test my suspicions I ran a keyword search for Inglis and Hall, limiting the year to 1767. The database turned up only two instances of Inglis and Hall advertising in the Georgia Gazette in 1767. One appeared in the January 21 issue. The database also flagged an earlier iteration of today’s advertisement in the August 19 issue, one that was much easier to read. The keyword search did not, however, identify the August 26 advertisement, yet I knew it existed because I had a hard copy originally drawn from the database sitting next to my computer. I also knew from experience reading the Georgia Gazette that Inglis and Hall advertised more than twice in 1767.

Aug 26 - 8:19:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 19, 1767).

This means that there are certain questions that keyword searches cannot address given current technological constraints. For instance: How frequently did Inglis and Hall advertise in the 1760s? Determining the answer to that question requires an older method of research, examining the newspaper page by page. The online database certainly facilitates that process, eliminating the need to consult original copies of the Georgia Gazette in archives, yet the keyword search does not always eliminate portions of the research process it was intended to streamline. Researchers cannot depend on keyword searches to be exhaustive.

As an historian, I regularly consult original copies of newspapers at the American Antiquarian Society and other archives, microfilms of newspapers, digital surrogates in databases like Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers, and hard copies that I have generated from my own photos and the materials available via databases. Each of these formats is unique and has its virtues, as well as its shortcomings. None of them replaces the others. Instead, historians must recognize the limitations and devise strategies for effectively and efficiently utilizing the various resources available to them.

September 14

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

sep-14-9131766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (September 13, 1744).

“Likewise to be sold at the same Place …”

Most readers of the Providence Gazette in 1766 probably would not have paused to question if this constituted one advertisement or two separate advertisements. For historians of printing and/or advertising interested in quantifying and analyzing the number of advertisements that appeared in colonial newspapers, on the other hand, it raises a conundrum.

At first glance, it appears to be a single advertisement, especially since the phrase “Likewise to be sold at the same place” functions as a transition from a list of books for sale to a more elaborate description of a particular book sold by the same advertiser. However, the two halves of this advertisement appeared separately, in different columns, in the previous issue. The list of books appeared at the bottom of a column and the advertisement for the pamphlet on making pearl ashes was at the top of the next column. This would have had the effect of presenting them sequentially to anybody who read the newspaper from first page to last, even through they were spatially separated. The printer likely intended them to be distinct, yet related advertisements. Still, the absence of a line separating them when they appeared one above the other (the same sort of line that defined the boundaries of other advertisements that appeared in the issue) serves as a visual cue indicating a single advertisement.

For the most part, it doesn’t much matter if this was one advertisement or two, though it does demonstrate that printers were able to leave some content (namely advertisements) in their forms and move them around to fit their needs from issue to issue.

Still, this presents a frustrating situation for certain research questions. For other projects I have attempted to count the number of advertisements placed by members of the book trade as a proportion of total advertisements. This example, if counted only once, downplays the influence of printers and booksellers on eighteenth-century advertising, especially considering its length relative to other advertisements in the same issue. This suggests that tabulating column inches would be a better method for making such assessments, but that method would be much more labor intensive (not necessarily a good justification for not doing it) as well as impossible to do with microfilmed and/or digitized sources that do not include measurements among the metadata (a better explanation for not measuring column inches). For researchers that do not have access to the original newspapers, tabulating column inches simply would not be possible. Counting how many advertisements appeared, while flawed, at least allows for some sort of metrics when working with surrogates rather than original sources.

In Which the Materiality of Texts Shapes Research Methodologies

This week’s extended commentary post is scheduled to publish as a virtual text just as my panel, “Beyond the Book,” commences at the Early American Material Texts conference in Philadelphia. I will be speaking about “Eighteenth-Century Advertising Ephemera: Paratexts that Framed Early American Magazines.” The material that follows below is an excerpt from my pre-circulated paper, the portion that discusses the challenges of conducting archival work on magazines as material texts whose form changed dramatically, both in the eighteenth century as the result of interventions by the original subscribers and throughout subsequent centuries as the result of archival and digitization practices.

Many scholars have examined the cultural, political, and intellectual content of the late-eighteenth-century magazines that poured off the presses in the major port cities of the new United States, yet they have placed little emphasis on the magazine as a commercial medium, in part because almost no advertising appeared within the pages of those magazines and in part because most magazines are today found preserved in bound volumes without the supplementary media, including wrappers and inserts, that featured each issue’s advertising. Here it is important to underscore that the magazines we encounter in digitized form in the American Periodical Series and, indeed, even most that are preserved in archives no longer take the material form they had when they first came into the possession of eighteenth-century readers. A variety of factors have contributed to this. For instance, many subscribers typically took multiple issues, most often six months at a time, to a bookbinder to be bound into a single volume. In the process, ancillary materials were removed, leaving magazines that were largely sanitized of commercial notices, even when they included essays on commerce and economics. As a result, most of the eighteenth-century magazines examined by modern scholars look quite different, take starkly different material form, and, as a result, transmit very different messages than when they were first issued more than two centuries ago.

American Museum Wrapper
An intact wrapper accompanying The Universal Asylum, and Columbian Magazine, For April, 1790 (Philadelphia:  William Young, 1790).  William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan.

To what extent were they different? Although commercial notices were largely absent from the body of the issue for any given week or month, those few magazines that are intact demonstrate that contemporary subscribers typically received issues that were delivery systems for advertising. Many of them arrived enclosed in wrappers made of blue paper that featured between two and seven pages of advertising as well as the magazine’s title page, accompanying notes about how to subscribe, and a list of booksellers who sold the magazines. Usually the title and related information took up only one page; sometimes they spread out over two pages, but rarely did they extend onto a third. This typically left three pages for advertising in most magazines but as many as six or seven pages of advertising in each issue of those publications that doubled up the number of sheets used as wrappers and devoted to advertising, including some of the century’s most successful magazines, such as the Columbian Magazine and the American Museum. Although the lack of advertising interspersed with articles does not reflect current strategies, in other ways the material forms of eighteenth-century magazines were not much different from their modern counterparts that overflow with subscription cards and other materials that flutter out when flipping through the pages. Printers and publishers stuffed a variety of inserts, trade cards, book catalogues, and subscription notices inside those blue wrappers that accompanied each monthly issue. Subscribers may have purchased magazines for the edification they provided concerning history, economics, and belles lettres, but those magazines still extant in their original form suggest that printers and other providers of goods and services used literary magazines for their own purposes of making a living and generating revenues.

This argument depends on identifying and examining eighteenth-century magazines still extant in their original form, sometimes a difficult task that merits a few words about both modern methodology and the power of archives over time. First, however, consider how the material circumstances of magazines were transformed almost immediately after publication and distribution to subscribers. Printers and publishers did not intend for supplementary advertising materials that accompanied magazines to remain with the bodies of the magazines indefinitely or even for more than a few months. Publishers and subscribers both understood that once an entire volume, typically six issues over that many months, had been published that the separate issues would be gathered and bound together. Some advertising wrappers included explicit instructions for bookbinders to remove all the supplementary material before binding the volume. Wrappers, trade cards, subscription notices, and book catalogues were out, but title pages, tables of contents, and other materials were added. The final product that ended up on subscribers’ shelves – and in modern archives – did not much resemble the original material form eighteenth-century magazines took when first delivered.

May 27 - Trade Card
Joseph Anthony’s trade card, inserted in the American Museum (Philadelphia:  Mathew Carey, August 1789).  Society Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

This creates challenges for researchers interested in paratexts as much as (or more than) the essays, poems, and other items that appeared in the bodies of magazines. To compound the difficulty, best practices among an earlier generation of librarians and catalogers sometimes called for dismantling single issues that had not been bound. They sought to better organize an institution’s collections by housing various components with others of their genre – book catalogues with other book catalogues or trade cards in the trade cards collection, for instance – rather than leaving them intact. Such practices did not anticipate the modes of paratextual analysis undertaken by scholars at work today. Even in instances that eighteenth-century magazines and their supplementary materials have remained intact, the companies that have produced digital surrogates have sometimes neglected to photograph and reproduce the ancillary materials, incorrectly assuming that anybody who wished to examine, say, the American Museum would be interested in only the body of that publication and not other materials delivered with it. As Kenneth Carpenter and Michael Winship cautioned in their keynote address at the American Antiquarian Society’s Digital Antiquarian Conference last May, digital surrogates should be consulted as complements to, rather than replacements for, original documents. As we increasingly consult virtual texts we must remember that material texts sometimes tell unique stories that are not always captured in the digitization process.

We must keep eighteenth-century practices and circumstances in mind as we examine magazines in modern libraries and archives. Occasionally, the original subscribers or their bookbinders neglected to remove the advertising materials or overlooked a wrapper or insert here or there. As a result, looking at one supposedly “representative” issue of a magazine usually does not reveal the material circumstances of the original publication. Tracking down the advertisements that accompanied eighteenth-century magazines requires examining as many copies as possible to discover advertising paratexts inadvertently left behind, in both bound volumes and, when they survive, single issues. Indeed, it is often the single issues that include advertising media and testify to the original form of these publications. I have been exceptionally fortunate that curators, librarians, and other staff at several research institutions have generously allowed me to examine every issue, page by page, of eighteenth-century magazines in their collections once they have become familiar with my project and understand why this methodology is imperative. For good reason, archival staff often prefer to limit access to original materials in order to preserve it. When an institution possesses more than one copy of a magazine, for instance, one is often designated for use by researchers in order to preserve the others in their original condition as much as possible. Increasingly, researchers are asked to consult digital surrogates, which also present a “representative” copy, whenever possible. Such sources are often flawed due to the circumstances already described or, in some instances, incomplete because vendors unilaterally decided not to film or digitize ancillary materials because they did not understand the value of these paratexts for researchers. Eighteenth-century magazines exist in a variety of material and digital forms that in and of themselves shape our understanding of their original formats and purposes, sometimes misleading scholars because we do not see, touch, or read the same texts as the early Americans who originally subscribed to these magazines.

May 2

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

May 2 - Single 5:2:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (May 2, 1766).

“RUN away … a Negro man named PETER.”

I could not select a single advertisement to feature today. Instead, I have chosen an entire genre: advertisements for runaway slaves.

May 2 - 5:2:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (May 2, 1766).

Today’s advertisements from the Virginia Gazette are the first from the Chesapeake colonies featured by the Adverts 250 Project. As I have explained previously, different institutions provide varying levels of access to Readex’s Early American Newspapers database. The most complete access is available via the American Antiquarian Society (there listed as America’s Historical Newspapers), Readex’s partner in creating the database. Via my own campus library and the Boston Public Library’s online electronic resources, I am able to access about two-thirds of the titles from 1766 available via the American Antiquarian Society, but those titles are restricted primarily to New England and Middle Atlantic colonies. (My students and I are able to access Early American Newspapers via the campus library and the Boston Public Library anywhere we are connected to the Internet. Accessing the database via the American Antiquarian Society, however, requires being on site. To avoid an additional layer of responsibilities for an already extensive class project, I did not require my students to visit the American Antiquarian Society. Instead, I delayed incorporating the additional newspapers from the Chesapeake colonies into the Adverts 250 Project until I resumed my role as sole curator once the semester concluded.)

I have argued before that regional differences within eighteenth-century newspapers have shaped the Adverts 250 Project to this point. Today I present visually striking evidence to make that case.

We have certainly seen that slavery was present in New England and Middle Atlantic colonies in the 1760s. Advertisements seeking to buy and sell enslaved men, women, and children appeared regularly in the local newspapers, as did other advertisements warning against runaway slaves and offering rewards for their capture and return to their masters. Such advertisements did not appear, however, with the frequency seen here. A single page of the May 2, 1766, issue of the Virginia Gazette included NINE advertisements for runaway slaves, each easily identified by the crude woodcut that accompanied it. I have previously argued that advertisements for slaves in newspapers in New England and the Middle Atlantic colonies demonstrated that slavery was a part of everyday life, commerce, and culture in early America. The Virginia Gazette gives us a glimpse even further south where a greater number of slaves toiled – and seized their own liberty by running away. Slavery was well integrated into the northern colonies, but it was truly ubiquitous in the Chesapeake and Lower South.

The appearance of this page of the Virginia Gazette is stunning in its own regard. It becomes even more jarring when taking into consideration the recent repeal of the Stamp Act, a development widely celebrated as delivering the American colonies from enslavement by Great Britain. Virginians were among the first and most vocal opponents of the Stamp Act. Their yelps for their own liberty, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, stand in strike juxtaposition to the bondage of enslaved men, women, and children in their colony.

In Which Digital Surrogates Must Be Used as Complements to, Rather than Replacements for, Original Sources

In recent weeks I have questioned some of the decisions made by the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette in the early months of 1766. Several of the advertisements the guest curators have selected featured rather unconventional formats, sometimes as a line or two running across the bottom of a page and other times entire advertisements tilted counterclockwise ninety degrees. I discovered other irregularities as I consulted Early American Newspapers to see these advertisements in the context of the entire printed page. What were the printers thinking?!

I’ve suggested a couple of theories. For instance, I hypothesized that some of the unusual layout might have been the result of the printers attempting to create front and back pages with equal coverage of text. I also questioned whether some of the decisions about the layout might have been innovative experiments to draw readers’ attention to the advertising. In both instances, I promised to consult the originals, rather than the digital surrogates, to see if that would answer any questions.

It turns out that examining original issues of the New-Hampshire Gazette helped me to solve the mystery! This is an instance that demonstrates that digital surrogates cannot replace original sources. Instead, the two complement each other, allowing scholars to ask new questions and find answers that would not have been possible (or, at the very least, much less likely) when relying on only one or the other.

Here’s what was happening with the New-Hampshire Gazette in 1766. Like other newspapers of the era, this one was published on a broadsheet that was folded in half to create an issue with four pages. In this case, each page measured 9½ inches wide by 14¾ inches high. Each page featured three columns whose width each measured 2¾ inches. Let’s call that a “standard” format for the purposes of this examination.

For the February 7 issue, however, the printers switched to smaller broadsheets. I imagine that the larger ones were in short supply or not available. That issue, as well as the next two (February 14 and 21) still included four pages, but each page was 8 inches wide by 13 inches high rather than 9½ inches x 14¾ inches. Instead of three columns measuring 2¾ inches wide each, the new size accommodated two columns that were 3½ inches wide (in most cases, but I will soon describe some of the very interesting exceptions). Let’s consider these new parameters a “temporary” format for the purposes of this examination.

Starting with the February 28 issue, the newspaper returned to the larger size broadsheet, but not to any sort of “standard” format. That and the following issue, March 7, featured advertising layouts that were even more visually jolting. With the March 14 issue the New-Hampshire Gazette returned to publishing “standard” format issues of four pages with three columns measuring 2¾ inches wide each.

Although Early American Newspapers revealed to me the difference in the number of columns, it did not offer any metadata explaining the transition. The difference was immediately apparent, however, when I viewed the originals at the American Antiquarian Society. I spent quite a bit of time with a ruler measuring the pages and the columns for each issue from January 31 through March 14.

This particular kind of metadata is currently lacking in Early American Newspapers. That is an observation rather than a complaint. I realize that it would be prohibitively expensive to develop this particular metadata: all the measuring, recording, coding, and other tasks required to link this data to the digitized images that substitute for the original newspapers. As somebody who regularly uses digitized newspapers I would much prefer that the partnership of the American Antiquarian Society and Readex continue to produce digital images of as many newspapers as possible, allowing for even more expansive research by scholars working on a variety of projects and members of the general public asking a variety of questions. I understand that the trade off for access to a greater number of sources will often be less metadata for most of them. Still, I feel that the strategy that has been pursued here has been appropriate, as long as those using the digital surrogates are aware that the digital images cannot reveal everything that the original sources do.

This raises important questions about what we miss when we rely exclusively on digital sources. I first began thinking about this issue as a result of Leon Jackson’s presentation at the Digital Antiquarian Conference last summer: “Historical Haptics: Digital and Print Cultures in the Nineteenth Century.” (Check out the slides from his presentation.) He pointed out that every issue of a newspaper appears to “be” the same size when consulting digital sources: the size of the screen. That was certainly my experience with the New-Hampshire Gazette. The digital surrogates hid some important information – the size of the page – from me.

**********

Let’s have a look at some of the unusual layout decisions the printers made when they temporarily used smaller sheets for their newspaper.

NH Gaz 2:7:1766 Third Page
Third page of the New-Hampshire Gazette (February 7, 1766).

Consider the third page of the February 7 issue. The first two pages featured the “temporary” format: two columns that were each 3½ inches wide. The third page, however, had two columns supplemented by a third column of four advertisements each rotated ninety degrees counterclockwise. It turns out that each column measures 2¾ inches wide, as do each of the four advertisements in the extra column with perpendicular text. Each of those advertisements previously ran in earlier issues. The printers likely still had the advertisements in the forms. Rather than reset the type for the new format of the newspaper they saved time by reusing the work they had already done (and keep in mind that they would have reused it all the same if they had access to the larger broadsheets that week).

This issue also included advertisements featured here previously, both from Jonathan Moulton. On the first and fourth pages they ran for two lines across both columns at the bottom of the page. Why? Perhaps this was a means of squeezing in a little more advertising. Perhaps it was because Moulton offered a March 1 deadline for purchasing cows, making his notice time sensitive, prompting the printers to insert it even after the rest of the issue had been set for printing.

NH Gaz 2:14:1766 Second Page
Second page of the New-Hampshire Gazette (February 14, 1766).

The second page of the February 14 issue included other curious decisions about the layout. At first glance it appears that the printers followed the same course as they did for the third page for February 7. On closer examination, however, it turns out that the first column measure 3½ inches wide while the second is only 2¾ inches wide. The four advertisements rotated to form the third column all measure 2¾ inches wide.

With one exception, the first column features either new items or advertisements repeated from the previous issue and set with a 3½-inch width at that time. The exception is a “new” advertisement from Moulton which combines the two that appeared on the first and last pages of the previous issue into a single advertisement (which was then repeated in subsequent weeks).

All of the advertisements in the second column, measuring 2¾ inches wide, were repeated from issues printed on larger broadsheets on January 31 or earlier. Again, the printers reused type already set in the forms.

Careful attention to the perpendicular column reveals that all four advertisements measure 2¾ inches wide. Each was repeated from type set for the “standard” format. However, one of them underwent minor alterations to make it fit into the space available. The font size for “EDWARD EMERSON” (formerly “Edward Emerson”) was reduced and the advertisement was truncated, removing “at the lowest Rates” and shaving off a line of text as a result.

The February 21 issue, the final one printed on smaller broadsheets and featuring the “temporary” format, had a very regular appearance compared to the previous two. All four pages had two columns that measured 3½ inches wide each, giving the issue a rather clean appearance compared to those that came immediately before it (and, as we will see, those that came after). The only exception was a one-line advertisement that ran across both columns at the bottom of the second page.

NH Gaz 2:28:1766 Third Page
Third Page of New-Hampshire Gazette (February 28, 1766).

Printed once again on the larger broadsheets, the February 28 issue returned to the “standard” format of three columns, each measuring 2¾ inches wide, on every page except the third one. That page had what was becoming a familiar layout: two columns accompanied by a narrow column of advertisements rotated ninety degrees counterclockwise. Unlike either of the previous examples, however, the first and second columns measured 3½ inches wide each. All of the content was either new or repeated from issues for which type had been set to accommodate the smaller broadsheets. Again, the printers efficiently used type already in forms.

That final rotated column is definitely the most curious. The printers certainly attempted to maximize content. It featured three items that measured 2¾ inches wide: a news item from London, a new probate notice, and Edward Emerson’s advertisement (restored to its original format). The printers also inserted an advertisement that was 3½ inches in width that had originally appeared in the February 14 issue. It was too long to be wedged in along the right edge of the broadsheet so the printers removed the final four lines and inserted them as a narrow (1 inch wide) addendum next to the rest of the advertisement, giving the upper right corner of the page a rather strange appearance.

NH Gaz 3:7:1766 Third Page
Third page of the New-Hampshire Gazette (March 7, 1766).

The printers got even more creative/efficient with the layout of the third page of the March 7 issue. (All the other pages of that issue returned to the “standard” layout.) The upper quarter of the page featured two columns measuring 3½ inches wide each and a now-familiar third column with the text rotated. All of the material in the first two columns was either new or repeated from an issue that had been set intentionally with column widths of 3½ inches.

In order to maximize the number of advertisements they could squeeze into that rotated column, the printers chose two that were 3½ inches wide and a third that was 2¾ inches wide. This allowed them to fill the page in the upper right corner. As with Edward Emerson’s advertisement previously, the font size for the first line of John Wheitfield’s advertisement was reduced in order to make it fit on the page. Similarly, the first line of George Jaffrey’s notice about excise taxes on liquor (“PROVINCE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE”) was removed in the interest of space. The probate notice was left intact from the previous issue.

The lower portion of the page included three columns, each 2¾ inches wide. The printers were continuing to transition back to the “standard” format and setting new type accordingly now that they had access to the larger broadsheets once again. The first two columns included a fresh news item from London and a new advertisement for a “Milch COW.” The third column included slightly updated advertisement by shopkeeper Joseph Bass. To save space, the first line (“Just imported from LONDON”) and a nota bene at the end were removed.

All told, the third page of the March 7 issue is the most visually striking. It also most effectively demonstrates the printers’ creativity and efficiency in printing on the paper that was available to them and conserving their energy and efforts by not completely resetting type for all the advertisements as their paper supply changed and then changed again.

As noted above, the March 14 issue returned to the “standard” format. None of the layout merits further mention, except perhaps acknowledging that the missing lines from Joseph Bass’s advertisement returned now that more space was available. This and other examples in these issues suggest that printers played the primary role in decisions about format even if advertisers called the shots when it came to content.

**********

In the end, I am not able to make the argument that I initially hoped to make about some of the innovative layouts for advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette in the early months of 1766. I wish I could argue that the printers were experimenting with the layout as a means of drawing readers’ (and potential customers’) attention to the advertisements, but after consulting the original issues I realize that the evidence just does not bear out that interpretation. What I took for innovation in advertising turned out to be an innovation of necessity and practicality as the printers creatively and efficiently inserted as many advertisements as possible in the wake of printing on smaller broadsheets.

I would not have been able to reach this conclusion had I relied on digitized images of the newspapers alone since that format obscures the size of the newspapers and the changes in the paper supply. As much as possible, original sources and digital surrogates really must be consulted in combination as complements to each other.

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.

In Which the Digital Archive Is Incomplete

Last week I shared my process for charting which newspapers were published on which days during the third week of January 1766. I did so to demonstrate how I choose the “freshest Advices,” to borrow the tagline included on the Boston Post-Boy’s masthead that week (as well as the masthead of many other American newspapers throughout the eighteenth century).

As a result, I ended up selecting seven advertisements from six newspapers in five cities in four colonies, all of them in New England. Based on the newspapers available via my college’s subscription to Early American Newspapers, I recognize one possible improvement. I could have selected an advertisement from one of two newspapers published in New York, but I had recently featured notices from both of them. In an effort to rotate through newspapers to include relatively even coverage, I opted for publications from other cities. If I were to assess coverage over a month rather than a week, this problem would not be nearly as apparent. (After my students complete their time as guest curators over the next eleven weeks, I will aim to rectify this small problem by choosing newspapers from as many different cities and colonies as possible each week, planning further ahead to make that possible.)

Jan 29 - Wochenliche Masthead
Masthead for Der Wöchentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote (January 27, 1766).

Still, based on when each newspaper was published during the week, even if I had included a newspaper from New York I would have only slightly improved the coverage: seven advertisements from six newspapers in six cities in five colonies. The most significant difference would have been including a newspaper from the Middle Atlantic, but this still would not have increased the geographic scope significantly.

This is especially striking when taking into consideration how many newspapers were published in the colonies in 1766. Here’s a list (with some notations), arranged geographically, from Edward Connery Lathem’s Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1690-1820. [1]

New Hampshire

  • Portsmouth Mercury (last known issue on September 29)
  • [Portsmouth] New-Hampshire Gazette

Massachusetts

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston Post-Boy
  • [Boston] Massachusetts Gazette

Rhode Island

  • Newport Mercury
  • Providence Gazette (suspended at beginning of year; extra and supplement on March 12; resumed August 9)

Connecticut

  • [Hartford] Connecticut Courant
  • [New Haven] Connecticut Gazette
  • New-London Gazette

New York

  • New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy
  • New-York Gazette [Weyman’s]
  • New-York Journal (began publication on October 16)
  • New-York Mercury

Pennsylvania

  • [Germantown] Wahre und Wahrscheinliche Begebenheiten (only known issue on February 24)
  • Germantowner Zeitung (few known issues)
  • [Philadelphia] Pennsylvania Gazette
  • [Philadelphia] Pennsylvania Journal
  • [Philadelphia] Der Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote

Maryland

  • [Annapolis] Maryland Gazette (suspended at beginning of year; issues on January 30, February 20; resumed March 6)

Virginia

  • [Williamsburg] Virginia Gazette (Hunter) (suspended at beginning of year; resumed March 7)
  • [Williamsburg] Virginia Gazette (Rind) (began publication on May 16)

North Carolina

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

South Carolina

  • [Charleston] South-Carolina and American General Gazette
  • [Charleston] South-Carolina Gazette (suspended at beginning of year; resumed June 2)
  • [Charleston] South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal

Georgia

  • [Savannah] Georgia Gazette (suspended at beginning of year, but resumed May 21)

(Why were so many newspapers suspended at the beginning of the year? Was that unusual? Yes! When the Stamp Act went into effect on November 1, 1765, many newspapers stopped publication out of protest. Others continued in defiance of the Stamp Act. I’m planning to address the Stamp Act and its effects on advertising in a later post.)

Lathem indicates that twenty-eight newspapers were published in fifteen cities in eleven colonies (but not Delaware or New Jersey) in 1766. Eliminating those with few known issues as well as others that had been suspended or had not yet begun publication still leaves nineteen newspapers published in ten cities in eight colonies during the fourth week of January 1766.  This includes newspapers published in New England, the Middle Atlantic, and the Lower South (but not the Chesapeake).

Now compare that to the list of newspapers I was able to access via my college’s subscription to Early American Newspapers.

New Hampshire

  • [Portsmouth] New-Hampshire Gazette

Massachusetts

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston Post-Boy
  • [Boston] Massachusetts Gazette

Rhode Island

  • Newport Mercury

Connecticut

  • [Hartford] Connecticut Courant
  • New-London Gazette

New York

  • New-York Gazette [Weyman’s]
  • New-York Mercury

Philadelphia

  • [Philadelphia] Der Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote

This list consists of only eleven newspapers in seven cities in six colonies, compared to nineteen newspapers in ten cities in eight colonies actually published during the fourth week of January 1766. No newspapers from the Chesapeake or the Lower South appear on this list. (I am being generous here by including the German newspaper from Philadelphia even though I revealed a few weeks ago that I do not read German and will not be including German-language newspapers and advertisements in this project.)

I claimed last week that the geographic scope of advertisements I select derives from a methodology that is well-crafted and appropriate given the sources available. That claim comes into sharper focus now. I have been experimenting with what is possible using the resources available to me via an Internet connection from my living room or from my office, without stepping into an actual archive to examine original copies of newspapers or dreaded reels of microfilm.

Jan 29 - Boston Gazette Masthead
Masthead for the Boston-Gazette (January 27, 1766).

It should now be apparent that I am working with an incomplete archive! Digitization is wonderful in so many ways. I love that I have so many sources available any time I am connected to the Internet. I appreciate that I am able to introduce my students to colonial newspapers in a way that just was not possible when I was an undergraduate. As I think about their tasks as guest curators in the coming weeks and how I might have approached a similar assignment as an undergraduate I realize that it would have been possible, with a lot of effort, at the major research university I attended, with its massive library and banks of microfilm readers. It would not, however, have been possible at the small liberal arts college where I currently teach, at least not without extensively relying on interlibrary loan to procure microfilms of colonial newspapers.  My campus library certainly would not possess the budget to purchase all of these microfilms. Even then, the process might have been too cumbersome.

I now find myself on some sort of middle ground. Digitization of early American sources is a significant boon, both for research and teaching, but digital archives need to be approached with full awareness that they do not (yet and may never) replicate all the holdings of the physical collections in libraries, historical societies, and other institutions throughout the United States and beyond.

Jan 29 - Boston Gazette Supplement Masthead
Masthead for Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (January 27, 1766).

Next week I’ll explore varying levels of access to Early American Newspapers and how that shapes the scope of this project.

[1] Edward Connery Lathem, compiler, Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1690-1820: Being a Tabular Guide to Holdings of Newspaper Published in America through the Year 1820 (Barre, MA: American Antiquarian Society and Barre Publishers, 1972).

Calendar Considerations: When Were Newspapers Published?

Last week I documented which newspapers printed during the third week of January 1766 were accessible via my campus library’s subscription to the Readex database of America’s Historical Newspapers. I included the following list, arranged geographically.

New Hampshire

  • New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)

Massachusetts

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston Post-Boy
  • Massachusetts-Gazette (Boston)

Rhode Island

  • Newport Mercury

Connecticut

  • Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
  • New-London Gazette

New York

  • New-York Gazette
  • New-York Mercury
Massachusetts Gazette Masthead
Masthead for the Massachusetts Gazette (January 16, 1766)

The list for the fourth week of January 1766 is the same. As I indicated last week, each of these newspapers was printed only once each week, making a list organized by chronology rather than geography more helpful in selecting which issues to examine and, eventually, which advertisements to select. This is what the publication history of these ten newspapers for the third week of January 1766 looks like when mapped out on a calendar.

January 16 (Thursday in 1766, but Saturday in 2016)

  • Massachusetts-Gazette (Boston) – plus a Supplement

January 17 (Friday in 1766, but Sunday in 2016)

  • New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)
  • New-London Gazette

January 18 (Saturday in 1766, but Monday in 2016)

January 19 (Sunday in 1766, but Tuesday in 2016)

January 20 (Monday in 1766, but Wednesday in 2016)

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston Post-Boy
  • Newport Mercury
  • Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
  • New-York Gazette
  • New-York Mercury

January 21 (Tuesday in 1766, but Thursday in 2016)

January 22 (Wednesday in 1766, but Friday in 2016)

Note that January 22, 1766, fell on a Wednesday, while January 22, 2016, fell on a Friday. It is important to realize when during the week these newspapers first came into the hands of eighteenth-century readers. Of these ten newspapers, seven were published on Monday, one on Thursday, and two on Friday. Three of the Boston newspapers appear to have competed with each other at the beginning of the week, while Richard Draper and Samuel Draper may have been attempting to eke out a space of their own with a fresh issue of the Massachusetts-Gazette midway through the week. Similarly, subscribers and other readers in New York enjoyed new issues of John Holt and Hugh Gaine’s newspapers on the same day. Overall, most printers distributed their current issue either at the very beginning or at the end of the week.

The fact that publication was clustered on just a few days affects which advertisements I select to include in this project. Whenever possible, I aim to feature an advertisement published on the same date exactly 250 years ago. As the calendar above demonstrates, this is not always possible because there are dates on which no newspaper was published (or at least no newspaper included in my subscription to Early American Newspapers, but more on that another time). In such cases I work backwards, going to the most recent date on which a newspaper had been published. As a result, I feature an advertisement that would have been among those most recently available to colonial American readers, somewhere, exactly 250 years ago.

Boston Post-Boy Masthead
Masthead for Boston Post-Boy (January 20, 1766)

Here’s how I worked through the past week. I only had one choice for last Saturday; the featured advertisement came from the Massachusetts-Gazette.

But I had two options for Sunday: the New-Hampshire Gazette or the New-London Gazette. I have discovered, however, that few advertisements were inserted in the New-London Gazette in 1766, which means that it rarely gets incorporated into this project. That also means that when I do discover an advertisement for goods or services in that newspaper I select it.

The fact that I do not have access to any newspapers on Monday or Tuesday further contributes to including the New-London Gazette whenever possible because most weeks I find myself in the position of featuring multiple advertisements – as many as three days in a row – from the New-Hampshire Gazette.

By comparison, I have access to an embarrassment of riches on Wednesday: seven newspapers were published on that date 250 years ago. This certainly gives me a lot more choice and flexibility. Looking ahead, I see that no other newspapers were printed on the next two days, which means that I will have to choose from among these seven for three days. In such instances, I do not draw from the same newspaper twice in the course of those three days. Not only do I seek to spread out coverage among multiple publications, I also attempt to achieve the most extensive geographic reach possible.

For Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week I was able to choose from three newspapers printed in Boston, two in New York, and two more from southern New England. This narrowed down my choices. I keep a running tabulation of which newspapers have been included (and how many times) since the project launched as a blog at the beginning of the year. This allows me to rotate through the newspapers to give relatively even coverage of each.

New-London Gazette Masthead
Masthead for the New-London Gazette (January 17, 1766)

Here’s what this process yielded for the past week:

  • Saturday, January 16: Moses Deshon, advertisement for female slave in Massachusetts-Gazette (January 16, 1766)
  • Sunday, January 17: Robert Hebbard, advertisement for runaway wife in New-London Gazette (January 17, 1766)
  • Monday, January 18: Thomas Bell, advertisement for tailoring services in New-Hampshire Gazette (January 17, 1766)
  • Tuesday, January 19: Jonathan Jackson, advertisement for imported goods in New-Hampshire Gazette (January 17, 1766)
  • Wednesday, January 20: Samuel Fletcher, advertisement aimed at women in Boston Post-Boy (January 20, 1766)
  • Thursday, January 21: Thomas Green, advertisement for almanacs in Connecticut Courant (January 20, 1766)
  • Friday, January 22: Joseph Fox, advertisement for legal services in Newport Mercury (January 20, 1766)

This is an interesting glimpse of early American advertising, commerce, and consumer culture during the third week of January 1766. In some ways it is representative, but in a variety of others it is also problematic. I believe that I have developed a methodology that is well-crafted and appropriate given the sources available, but I will devote next week’s extended commentary to an examination of some of the shortcomings that are apparent to those who work with early American newspapers regularly.

This may seem like excessive detail to some, but I had two purposes in writing this post. I wanted those who have not previously worked systematically with colonial newspapers to gain a better understanding of the process. In addition, my Public History students will soon be guest curating. I hope that this is a resource that will help them through selecting advertisements, in addition to our in-class workshops.