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Research Guides

.Newspapers as Primary Sources

   Sample newspaper front pages

Newspapers are a primary source providing a first rough draft of events. Since most newspapers are local in scope, there is good coverage of local issues. Newspapers also provide a good feel for the time period. Most older newspapers do not include indexing. Usually you will need to browse through issues of a newspaper to discover its content.

Digitized Historic Newspapers

This page includes links to UW restricted digitized historic newspapers and selected freely available digitized newspapers. To find additional freely available digitized historic newspapers see ICON: International Coalition on Newspapers. Additional collections of this type of primary source can be found under the tabs for History by Region and History by Topic.

For contemporary newspaper coverage (roughly since 1990) see the News subject guide.

Selected Newspapers on Microfilm

The UW Libraries has an extensive collection of historic newspapers on microfilm housed in the Microform and Newspaper Collections, located on the ground floor of Suzzallo Library.  The best way to identify available newspapers on microfilm is to use the Microforms & Newspapers Collection Database. Printers and scanners are available to make copies.

Using Google News Archive

Google News has a newspaper archive search which provides access to a number of past issues of newspapers.  Unfortunately Google does not provide a list of these newspapers.  The Google News Archive Search finds articles from proprietary newspapers (where you have to pay to see the article) and to free archives of newspapers.  To search the Google News Archive use the following search example.  You can limit your search by date, source (name of the newspaper, e.g., Spokane Daily Chronicle), and if you want just free material.

Sample google news search

Strategies for Searching Fulltext Newspaper Databases

When searching any fulltext database such as the New York Times you may find the following strategies useful to narrow your search down to more relevant items.

  • When available use the Advanced Search option -- this gives you the flexibility of doing more complex searches
  • If you get too many results see if there is a way to search just the headline of an article
  • If available limit your search by publication type such as articles, editorials, advertisements
  • Limit your search by publication year
  • Be aware of changes in language and spelling over time.  For example articles written in 1965 will use USSR or Soviet Union rather than Russia; Negro rather than African American; articles from 1800 might use Hayti rather than Haiti.