Historical hunting & fiche-ing


October 20, 2012 by astraltravels

Microfiche reader

Here fichey fichey! Scouring the Microfiche reader for one small article required infinite patience.

I think it was my fifth form history class that I first spent hours at the Palmerston North City Library coming to grips with trawling through old newspapers as recorded in miniature on flimsy bits of plastic film called ‘microfiche’. [If you’re my generation or a bit older, you’ll remember the tedious process, but if not, LMGTFY!]

It was tricky. It was a long drawn out process and it was not an effective means of research for someone as prone to daydreaming as me. Often I’d spend hours just finding the right microfiche, carefully navigating the over-sensitive control wheels of the microfiche reader, only to realise that the reference I sought was not as illuminating as I’d hoped.

So, in starting the research process for Great Kiwi Firsts I was absolutely thrilled to find that one website in particular made it so easy to search for not only newspapers, but articles, and key words in many of New Zealand’s historic papers (77 regional publications from 1839-1945).

Papers Past contains more than two million pages of digitised New Zealand newspapers and periodicals.

What a treasure! Not only can you search for key words or names within certain date ranges, and see how the article appeared to the people of the day (as a photographic scan), but at the click of the mouse it will provide you with a ‘computer-generated text’ version! (Admittedly, the text version is OCR-produced, so you can have some odd syntax going on in there, depending on the clarity of the photographic scan).

Let’s have a small demonstration. Click on this link. (Yes, yes, I used my name as a search item, but it’s a pretty sweet result of synchronicity, considering that I am from the Manawatu! And if you guffaw at the handicap bit, then I’d thank you not to, and present you with this historical gem) Now, click on the ‘View computer generated text’ button, and this is what you get. Yep, some of it may be absolute gobbledygook, but it is able to be easily copied and pasted as long as you proof it, and acknowledge the historical paper properly.

Now, here’s where I have a huge apology to make to all those amazingly thorough and ardent cataloguing people who made Paperspast possible: I’m very sorry, but I accidentally left you out of the bibliography and acknowledgement section of Great Kiwi Firsts. I feel awful. I remembered the day before I received my author copy of the book, but by then it was far too late.

So, here is my public gratitude and acknowledgement. Whoever the kind souls are who spent thousands of hours tirelessly and carefully scanning ancient newspapers, you are my personal heroes and your work and divine patience has not gone unnoticed. In the next print-run (I hope, I hope!), you will be given due acknowledgement, and will be included in the acknowledgements (page 293).

One of my favourite examples of how I used this incredible resource was on page 71 where, after setting the scene for the first ever rugby match in New Zealand in 1870, I mention that this auspicious moment for patriotic Kiwis shared the same page (and possibly just a little less limelight) as a report on ‘A Large Cheese’ sent from an Applby farmer back ‘Home’ (Mother England).

I then provide the text of ‘The Game’ as reported by a charged-up player of the day.

It’s quite fascinating to see History in context like that. Thank you Paperspast! I am indebted.

One thought on “Historical hunting & fiche-ing

  1. […] agricultural daily comings and goings, and a space where I have spent many a daydream and many a researching hour. It is an architecturally-awarded building that provides an area of light and air and somehow makes […]

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