Writing a first-class History dissertation: How newspapers can help – The British Newspaper Archive Blog

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Writing a first-class History dissertation: How newspapers can help

Ruth

Ruth Small studied History at Newcastle University and recently got in touch to tell us all about her dissertation.

She used The British Newspaper Archive in her research and was awarded a first-class mark, with some amazing comments about the originality of her work.

 
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I wrote my History dissertation about the great fire of Newcastle and Gateshead, which occurred on 6 October 1854. It was a fire which led to an explosion in a warehouse of a magnitude that no one had ever witnessed before. Consequently, the newspaper reports also spread like wildfire, becoming national news within two days.

By using The British Newspaper Archive’s advanced search, it was easy to find reports about the disaster. Within seconds, I found out how it had affected both young and old, rich and poor, with some very graphic reports of a country in shock.
 

Newspaper reports about Newcastle’s great fire in 1854

It was mainly the poor that were affected as their housing was destroyed in the fire, but I was also able to find gems such as the Newcastle Courant’s feelings about Reverend John Storie’s scathing sermon, in which he declared that the fire was ‘God’s Judgement on an Ungodly City’. Unsurprisingly, the Courant was not very impressed by his opinion!
 
Reverend John Storie claimed that Newcastle's great fire in 1854 was 'God's Judgement on an Ungodly City'

Newcastle Courant – Friday 03 November 1854
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

View the whole newspaper page

 

The London Daily News stated that the fire had been a case of ‘good timing’, clearing the town’s slums which had been riddled with cholera only the year before. The newspaper made comparisons with London’s great fire, which followed the plague in the seventeenth century.

With comments such as the ‘vast numbers of colliers who do not wash their skins for months’ an outraged Newcastle Courant stepped in to defend them stating categorically that they do wash every day ‘from head to foot’!
 
The London Daily News argued that the great fire of Newcastle and Gateshead in 1854 was a case of 'good timing'

London Daily News – Tuesday 10 October 1854
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

View the whole newspaper page

 

Dissertation was ‘a truly original study’

I was able to investigate the extent of the reports, both the length of them and the national coverage. I found that there were 360 articles longer that one column reported in most corners of England, Scotland and Ireland, but surprisingly not in Wales.

Although reading through these took a few days, I dread to think how long this would have taken before digitisation, let alone the miles of travel involved!

I received some amazing comments, particularly regarding the originality of the dissertation; that it ‘represents a truly original study’ and ‘fills a huge gap in regional history research [also] emphasising the supra-regional national significance of the fire’. So all I can say is ‘thank you’ to The British Newspaper Archive!

 

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We love hearing about how you’re using the newspapers. Tell us about your own research by emailing press@britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

 

 

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