10 March 2023
Nearly 400,000 historical newspaper pages are being released to the public online for free as part of the British Library’s Living with Machines project.
The digitised pages, sourced from the British Library’s extensive collection of historical newspapers, are being added to a further two million already available for free via the British Newspaper Archive – a platform jointly managed by the British Library and FindMyPast.
The digitised newspapers play a central role as source material for the £9.2m Living with Machines project. The five-year project, launched in 2019, aims to deepen our understanding of the ways in which technology altered the lives and culture of people in Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries.
AI technology is being developed to conduct linguistic and sentiment analysis on the newspaper transcriptions to examine how machines were written about and by whom, and how the relationship between humans and machines changed over time. Mechanised language, statistics around industrial accidents, and key information like date and place were extracted from newspaper articles by software, with researchers aiming to output digital models to showcase the results.
What years do the newspapers cover?
The newspapers cover a period between 1847-1920 across 67 national, regional and local titles. The collection includes unique periodicals that offer a view of events as they happened, such as the Cotton Factory Times, an early trade union movement newspaper published from 1885 until the early 20th century. Drawing on famous cotton trade unionists like Thomas Ashton, Thomas Birtwistle and James Mawdsley, the newspaper’s first edition offered itself as a voice of those workers involved in the cotton trade, a ‘battle-ground upon which the social questions of the operatives, and the questions affecting their labour, may be debated and settled.’
Mia Ridge, Digital Curator at the British Library, said: ‘Over the last five years the British Library has been thrilled to collaborate on this innovative research project, Living with Machines. Working with FindMyPast and partners including the Alan Turing Institute, the University of Cambridge, the University of East Anglia, the University of Exeter, Queen Mary University of London and King’s College London showed the benefits of inter-disciplinary research in developing new methods for understanding the past.
'We're delighted to share the benefits, offering access to tens of thousands of digitised newspapers sourced from our collection, now available on the British Newspaper Archive and as datasets on our research repository. Together with the creation of new computational research models, this enables researchers to gain deeper insights into our evolving relationship with technology. Living with Machines focuses on a period of social upheaval when mechanisation changed our world forever, and helps us understand the opportunities AI offers for data-led research in the future.”
Explore the historical newspaper pages at British Newspaper Archive.