The importance of newspapers as source material

To find out more, click on this picture.

To find out more, click on this picture.

Newspapers provide invaluable sources of information for historians seeking to present the Great War from varying positions. They also help place the reader into the story of the war rather than through the words of a historian. You can gain access to these newspapers by such organisations as Historic Newspapers.

The information provided by the newspapers are not necessarily historically accurate, not least because they were heavily censored by the government who were anxious to keep the people’s support throughout the war. It was the people after all, who were providing the means by which to fight it.  The function newspapers provide the scholar with the contemporary environment and context; they were there ‘on the spot’ and the imagination is fired up in the same way as reading regimental and private daily diaries.

Click on the above screen print to read more. Our thanks to Historic Newspapers.

Click on the above screen print to read more. Our thanks to Historic Newspapers.

Newspaper reports can provide additional importance to a story or article which is being presented on a particular subject. On this website we provide a biography of a family’s loss of their 16 year old son Frank Potter, who was lost on HMS Hampshire. On the same ship was Lord Kitchener and the front pages of a newspaper remind us of the enormity of the event. The relationship between the two stories are symbiotic; they are able to show the comparisons of national and private grief.

It is not only the front pages of newspapers which provide us with an insight into the Great War. Very often adverts appear on the same pages which show how commercial life carried on in a ‘business as usual’ format.

'War Illustrated' supplied a market which was rapacious in its thirst for information on the war.

‘War Illustrated’ supplied a market which was rapacious in its thirst for information on the war.

The use war itself is also a subject for which businesses were able to make money as this advert shows on selling pictures of the war. Making money from the war was certainly an opportunity. Richard Van Emden provides a harrowing story of the men who charged families vast sums of money to search for missing men who were clearly dead.

It is also in the classifieds, that we can find the very terrible side effects of the war. Many men found themselves unemployed when returning from the war and they describe their disabilities to potential employers in their attempts to use the classifieds to find work. They describe not only on the physical damage to their bodies, but also the mental scarring which has taken place. The words they use are simple and to the point and their desperation is clearly spelt out in the context of a newspaper advert. You simply cannot obtain such stark reality in anything other than a newspaper report.

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