Saturday, September 29, 2007

The New York Times opens its archives

A few days ago the New York Times did the internet a favor and opened up a lot of its archives. We now have free access to all their news articles from 1987 to the present, and those written from 1851 to 1922 (those articles have lapsed into the public domain). Yeah, articles as far back as 1851! There are still charges for some of their material from 1923 to 1986, though some others are free.

These old news articles give a whole new context to the historical things we know all about. Time has a way of shaving away the details and eroding the roughness. With history books what we absorb is the condensed and sanitized version of the story-- the number of people dead, the results of the election, the outcome of a war. With news articles you can get down to the nitty-gritty and bring yourself to the time the event happened.

This isn't to imply that the news article context is better (because it is very often not), but it's just fascinating to see things through the eyes of the people who lived at the time and were learning about the events for the first time.

I can foresee myself spending hours browsing these archives just to soak up all the history. Especially with the Philippine-related articles... they seem to give a more balanced view than our locally-written news articles and even history books. It would be better if the 1923-1986 stuff was free too, a whole lot of interesting stuff happens in there.

Some of the stuff I've found in the past days:
  • A 1865 article announcing Abhraham Lincoln was shot and is likely to die.
  • A 1898 article where Emilio Aguinaldo says Americans have accomplished their mission and should leave Manila.
  • A 1912 article saying the RMS Titanic struck an iceburg and rescue ships are on the way.
  • A 1916 editorial arguing that America's role in the Philippines is not yet complete.