This week, while reading Alan Lester's 'British Settler Discourse and the Circuits of Empire', I was struck with a startling realisation: my newspaper network did not fit in with his.
For those who have not read it, Lester's 2002 article discusses editorial connections between the Graham’s Town Journal (South Africa), the Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, and the Sydney Morning Herald in the the nineteenth century. Focusing primarily on conflicts between British humanitarians* and Antipodean settlers over the proper allocation of (native) land and the nature of racial hierarchies, Lester provides a compelling narrative of how these newspapers spread and reinforced a particular view of British imperialism. His evidence is wide-ranging, detailed, and completely at odds with my own.
Working almost exclusively with the Scottish press, I had found almost none of the heated, and quite explicit, vitriol so evident in these papers. This could, of course, be explained by chronology. Lester's work deals primarily with the mid- and late-nineteenth century, whereas I focus on the period before 1840, and this could explain some divergence. Yet, there is some overlap. How could none of this material have found its way north of the Tweed? Were the Scots simply more open-minded and humanitarian in their colonial pursuits? Although this is a tempting conclusion (overly simplistic ones always are), it is more than a little suspect.
Reading further, I found what I believe is the key to this bifurcation: The Times of London. This paper, according to Lester, was the primary advocate of the Journal, Examiner and Herald in Britain, reprinting and responding to their editorial content in its own. Seeing this, I scoured my own transcriptions for references to the London juggernaut; in the end I found one article on migration and settlement that had been taken from the Times. One in over five hundred--and even it was actually a reprint from the Sun, who was commenting on (and quoting) a piece from the Times.
I had previously suspected that the majority of editorial content that came to Scotland via London had come through the Morning Chronicle, but, not having yet mapped the English press, I had not realised that an entirely different, almost completely unattached network might exist around the so-called paper of record.
What does this mean? Well, it is suggests that my Georgian press network is oddly reminiscent of another editorial network: the modern day blog-o-sphere.
This network map, created by Lada Adamic and Natalie Glance, maps on-line communication between left-wing (blue) and right-wing (red) political blogs. As you can see, they are almost entirely divided into two separate networks: an echo chamber of like-minded individuals. The same seems to be true of the Whiggish Morning Chronicle and the Tory Times.
Yet, what is worrying about this bifurcation is not that the press was divided along political lines--that is to be expected--but that the digitized Scottish press (namely the Glasgow Herald, Caledonian Mercury, Aberdeen Journal and Scotsman) may reside with an entirely separate network from the un-digitized press. If this is true, if my anomalous findings are not just a reflection of divergent politics north of the Tweed, then there will be serious repercussions for those using digitized Scottish newspapers in their research.
Thus, the dominance of the Times in historical research, owing to its extensive index and early digitization, has had an unexpected effect upon my research. Rather than rely too heavily upon the paper of record, I find myself wholly disconnected from it, and thus much of the recent scholarship on the imperial press; moreover, I have no clear pathway back. Will my future work with the un-digitized press (next year) reconnect these systems? Either way, it will be an interesting find!
*I have said 'British humanitarians' as shorthand for the contemporary perception that the metropolis was filled with 'liberal do-gooders' interfering with colonial society. Lester's analysis is much more discerning and detailed about members of each camp, and I encourage you to read the work directly, rather than rely solely on my brief description.
** Image courtesy of carmichaellibrary