4-6 September 2014
University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom
In the first half of the nineteenth century, the number of newspapers published in Britain grew exponentially and spread far beyond the large urban centres into market towns and centres throughout the nation. Although these provincial newspapers remained weekly or bi-weekly publications throughout the period, they still required a significant amount of reportage to fill their four to eight pages. This material was shamelessly, and often haphazardly, gleaned from international periodicals in the form of scissors-and-paste reprints. Through these half-hearted shortcuts, we can develop a significant understanding of newspaper networks before the rise of international telegraphy and the slow decline of the scissors-and-paste system.
Utilising highly detailed transcriptions of newspaper content from the wider Anglophone world, and considering omissions, additions and typesetting errors, we can trace key dissemination pathways of news content from its origin in various British towns and colonies, through its many reprints, abridgments, summaries and commentaries, to the pages of provincial press. By mapping the shape and directionality of these network connections, a greater understanding of news dissemination and editorial links can be achieved. These networks can then form the statistical basis of further qualitative studies into the spread of ideas or interpersonal connections. However, close reading such as this requires painstaking transcription and careful examination of individual articles — processes that severely limit the speed and scale at which these networks can be constructed.
The paper will demonstrate how, through careful reflections on implicit processes undertaken during traditional close reading, and the adaptation of digital tools developed for distance reading and edition tracking, the mapping of these news networks can be significantly automated and the quantitative influence of key hubs can be preliminarily determined.