Preliminary Guide for Students Using the Burney Collection of Newspapers

Compiled by Anna Battigelli and Eleanor Shevlin 


  • Pages from eighteenth-century newspapers present some initial difficulties.  Their typeface may appear uneven and inconsistent to modern readers.  Parts of some pages might be “foxed,” that is, suffer from brown spots due to moisture or extremes in temperature, or they may be soiled, faded, torn, or stained by ink that has bled through the page.  While eighteenth-century books were made of far better materials than those in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries,  newspapers are, after all, ephemera—typically regarded as disposable—so they were not consistently preserved with care.  Moreover, the copies you are viewing have been digitized from microfilm, and that has also affected their legibility.  Still, we are fortunate to have this rich newspaper archive in digital form.
  •  Spellings vary. 
  • Perhaps most strikingly, the eighteenth-century “s” often appears as an “f.”  Give yourself time to adjust to the look of the eighteenth-century printed page.

Getting Started: 

  • Though you can begin skimming newspapers by doing searches, it is often more helpful to begin your search by selecting a specific date and reading through a paper or two for that day.  This will give you a sense of the different items (news stories, letters, and advertisements) within a given paper and of the kind of material typically recorded by newspapers.
  •  So as not to become overwhelmed by the amount of information you read, Rachel Leow suggests keeping a list of questions to help focus your search.  For example, you might track the types of products, events, and/or services that are being advertised.  What do these ads suggest about the presumed readership of the society?  How would you characterize the rhetorical strategies used in the ads?  Does any of the content surprise you?  Why?  What seem to be the “topics or concerns of the day”?  Does the issue or issues you have examined suggest anything about the role of religion in this society?  The role of gossip?  Concerns with one’s appearance or health?  You might also consider the page layout and placement of items. 
  •  If you have time to explore more than one issue, Rachel Leow also suggests that you follow a thread, perhaps a specific event and the various accounts of it as it unfolds over time. 

Searching Specifics:

  • Omit Stop words: Words such as “a, and, etc., in, of, on, and to” are ignored by the search engine.
  • Experiment with various spellings of any given word.
  • To search for a specific phrase, place the phrase in quotation marks.
  • Use wildcards:
    • An asterisk (*) stands in for other characters, so “poet*” will search for “poet,” “poets,” “poetess,” “poetry,” “poetically,” and “poetics.”
    • A question mark (?) stands in for one character, so “analy?e” brings up both “analyze” and “analyse.”
    • An exclamation point (!) stands for one or no characters.  So “fan!” brings up both “fan” and “fans.”
  • Use proximity searches:
    • A search for “Hastings w6 Indiawill find pages where “Hastings” appears within 6 words before the word, “India.”
    • A search for “Hastings n6 Indiawill find pages where “Hastings” appears within 6 words before and after the word, “India.”
  • Don’t forget that while you look at a specific issue of a newspaper, you can use the “find” function to search for words or phrases.

Take notes

This is crucial.  Take good notes and always record the title of the newspaper, its date, and page number so that you can recheck your source as needed.

This information and much more can be found in the following sources:


2 Responses to “Preliminary Guide for Students Using the Burney Collection of Newspapers”

  1. Joel ellegood Says:

    thanks mate… so much of history is accessible today thanks to the burney newspaper collection and though I have tried reading it a while ago, I never could make out between the f and the s. Gosh, your article was kind of enlightening I would say..Joel


  2. Teaching with ECCO | Early Modern Online Bibliography Says:

    […] those using Burney (which is included in the free trial), our “Preliminary Guide for Using Burney ” may be […]


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