Digital files – the press interface in 1800

"The history of the press takes on a different appearance in digital form, with OCR-scanned pages for lightning fast text searches."

All media history change is a commercially driven hunt for new markets, audiences and consumers. The same is also true of the history of the press, particularly during the 19th century with the emergence of modern industrial Sweden. The newspaper columns are the infrastructure within which the economy exists and occurs, and within which politico-economic discussion takes place. However, this has not been noted particularly often - and the press' self-image is completely different. This has long been (and still is) an image of the newspaper as a guarantor of democracy and a free exchange of opinions. But the history of the press has not always been a question of money, and it is only by establishing an economic-historical perspective that the actual forms and outlines of the daily press during the 19th century appear.

The starting point for the project is the ongoing digitalisation of Sweden's older newspapers - all annual volumes of Aftonbladet and Svenska Dagbladet will soon be digitalised (although not yet accessible, due to copyright restrictions). Research into 19th century newspapers has mainly been carried out by historians specialising in literature, ideas and close readings of key texts, rather than those with a digital schooling in quantitative methods. The synthesing efforts that have been carried out have required a great deal of work in order to deal with the enormous amount of text - work which, if the material were digitalised (as is now the case) could in many cases be carried out with a few clicks of a mouse. We have only just started to understand the opportunities opened up by computers. The history of the press takes on a different appearance in digital form, with OCR-scanned pages for lightning fast text searches.

The project intends to study and present (share) Sweden's digital press history - with a particular economic-historical focus on media advertising cultures - in which digitalised newspaper files are regarded as a kind of medium/database/archive of both local news and regional advertising cultures. One starting point is the copious amount of text being generated by hundreds of thousands of OCR-scanned newspapers, from which entirely unfamiliar patterns, information and knowledge appear in new media interfaces, from newspaper files to computer monitors. The project is thus far based on both research methods relating to text mining with the intention of discovering (more or less) meaningful media history patterns, and a far-reaching press history contextualisation - as well as a combination of insights from both quantitative and qualitative methods.

  • More information:

    The project is being financed by the Torsten Söderberg Foundation, and involves four researchers working in an interdisciplinary research team. It will run for two years, and is being led by Professor Pelle Snickars - pelle.snickars@umu.se