Old Newspapers - A Window Into the Past

Old newspapers act as a window. They give us a glimpse into the past and present us with real clues to the zeitgeist of the time. It's why the newspaper archive has long been a vital cog in historical research. It's allowed people studying a given period of history to gain an insight into the approach of editors and the way in which this approach was received by the readership. And whereas newspapers were undoubtedly at their peak in the UK from around 1860 to 1910, the influence of the printed press over the populace should never be underestimated. The media's coverage of the two world wars, as reported at home, are prime examples.
During World War One, for example, there's little doubt newspapers were fully expected to print what the government wanted. The government were desperate for the British people to believe what they needed to believe. The result was no-holds-barred propaganda, in which the media bigwigs were happy to play along. Headlines at the time included "Belgium child's hands cut off by Germans" and "Germans crucify Canadian officer". Both were nonsense, but old newspaper articles like this, as well as accounts of babies skewered on German bayonets, cemented public hatred of 'the hun'. Atrocities aside, facts and casualty figures were less than accurate, too, and were always 'tilted' in British favour.
It was a ploy that worked, though. In fact, it was the Brits' brilliant use of propaganda that would later serve as Hitler's benchmark. He'd point to this success in ensuring German propaganda during World War Two was as effective as possible. His appointment of Joseph Goebbels as Reich Minister of Propaganda was also a shrewd move - evil yet gifted, Goebbels made sure German propaganda during the 30s and 40s was devastatingly effective.
As such, it was imperative British propaganda competed with Nazi Germany's during World War Two. Newspaper coverage played no small part in this and understandably fell in line with the government's will to control national morale, as well as keeping it as high as possible. But unlike 30-odd years previously, this was achieved with a mixture of both astute reporting and outright propaganda. Publications including The Daily Express, The Daily Mirror and The Times therefore played a vital role in shaping public perceptions of the war. They fed the public's appetite with a calculated combination of pop culture on the one hand and war coverage on the other. The latter was often delivered on a human and emotional level, by relating events to individuals.
Today, historians point to these old newspaper articles as playing a crucial role in helping maintain the nation's belief in the cause, particularly after 1939. Many of these papers, especially The Daily Express, served as Churchill's mouthpiece and, when combined with mediums like radio and cinematic propaganda, cemented and invigorated the country's bulldog spirit. Think of it like this - historiography almost always suggests that the moment a country's morale is broken, their war is lost. Italy's capitulation in 1943 was a case in point. It couldn't happen to Britain. Thankfully, it didn't.
Of course, the usefulness of old newspapers isn't confined to providing historical accounts of war and suffering. They can also be used to gain perspective on anything you happen to be interested in. Getting hold of them isn't an issue either, with websites allowing you to select a specific publication and date, often going back into the first half of the 19th century.

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