Australian Scholarly Editions Centre Projects (ASEC)

Colonial Newspapers and Magazines Project

Colonial Newspapers and Magazines Project Colonial Newspapers and Magazines Project

At UNSW Canberra there is a strong history of research projects in colonial Australian literature going back to the 1970s.

The Colonial Newspapers and Magazines Project continues 1990s projects such as the indexing of the Bulletin (from 1880) for the old AUSTLIT (online from 1988), predecessor of the present AustLit database. To date, the indexing has been vertical: a magazine or newspaper of known relevance for its literary content would be chosen and indexed over the course of its entire run. Although an impressive amount of colonial-era indexing has been done to date, the approach so far taken has inevitably limited the number of titles that could be indexed.

Rationale for a new approach

The existing approach has been extremely valuable but does not permit reliable quantitative estimates about the period as a whole and the changing role and significance of literature within it. To be in possession of this new understanding will prompt research questions of a kind and a reach that we have not been in a position to address to date. Provided a populated literary ‘map’ of the colonial period can be achieved then more rigorous methodologies of literary research will be able to be pursued and higher standards achieved than has hitherto been possible.

The map depends crucially on AustLit’s indexing of colonial newspapers and magazines, which were the principal patrons of literary endeavour in the colonial period until and even after royalty-paying publishing was put onto a proper footing in the mid-1890s.

The New Methodology

In order to define the contours of the colonial map precisely and to get a more secure grip on the extent and nature of its literary expressions, four individual years have been selected as the focus for concentrated indexing: 1838, 1868, 1888 and 1900.

The aim of the new horizontal approach for the Colonial Newspapers and Magazines Project, scoped in 2013 and properly underway in 2014 with funding provided by UNSW Canberra, is to index all extant newspapers, and literary and general magazines published in these years. A list of all newspapers and magazines published in 1838, 1868 and 1888 was prepared and these 'parent' records indexed for AustLit. Next, the indexing of each of these publications for the chosen years is being undertaken, one by one. Good progress with 1838 and 1868 was made during 2014 but an application for ARC LIEF funding for 2015 was unsuccessful and so the project has gone into abeyance.

Nevertheless the indexing has considerably enhanced AustLit. Its Advanced Search page makes it possible to search in the CNMP data alone by specifying it in the Project tab:

Some exploratory research trails through the CNMP data have been mounted at

Reading habits

One highly valuable new aspect of this approach will be the inclusion in AustLit of data revealing the broader literary reading habits of colonial audiences. This will be revealed by indexing the presence of overseas writers and literature published or advertised within 19th century Australian newspapers and magazines. This question reflects emerging research directions in print culture.

New methods of displaying and analysing such data are being devised, and text-analytics approaches will be tested on TROVE's ocr data of 19th century newspapers. Semi-automated indexing, with its reliability able to be tested against the manual indexing, may become possible. For a conference paper about the aims and methodology of the newly focused project, given by Paul Eggert at the Reading Communities conference at the ANU in April 2014, click here.


Indexers for the CNMP at UNSW Canberra until the end of 2014 were Tessa Wooldridge and Jane Rankine (see Paul Eggert and Nicole Moore in Canberra, and Elizabeth McMahon and Brigitta Olubas at the main campus of UNSW in Sydney were the CIs for the project.