More and more newspapers and magazines are making deep archives freely available on the web, dropping requirements for print subscriptions and registration, making it easy to find the full-text of many well-known and respected publications available online. Richard Pérez-Peña wrote an interesting article called Dusting Off the Archives for the Web for the New York Times, saying:
“As magazines and newspapers hunt for the new thing they need to be to thrive in the Internet era, some find that part of the answer lies in the old thing they used to be…For magazines and newspapers with long histories, especially, old material can be reborn on the Web as an inexpensive way to attract readers, advertisers and money.”
My favorite free archive is Time Magazine, with the full text of every article searchable and free back to the first issue in 1923. It’s an amazing resource for everything from politics to popular culture, great for world affairs, social and cultural issues, religion, arts, entertainment, sports, and much more. If you want to know what Americans were thinking about during any particular period — you’ll find it here. The searching works well, with faceting to refine results, relevant Time cover images, and related stories for each article. Time has also put together some nice special features, including collections on many different topics, including the Holocaust, Learning Disabilities, Harry Potter, Harvard University, the Supreme Court and Country Music. Each topic has a page of selected quotations, linked to articles.
Another amazing free resource is the New York Times, with full text articles from 1851 to 1922 available free in page image PDF format. The Times archives are complicates: articles from 1923-1980 are searchable, with page image PDFs available for a fee, articles from 1981-1987 are available in text-only format for a fee, and articles from 1987-present are available in text-only format free. I feel like the availability of the free pre-1923 archives isn’t as well-known as it deserves to be, which is a shame. Not only is it good for world affairs, it’s a surprisingly good supplemental source for local history. For example, there are several articles here about the 1914 Salem Fire, including this one: SALEM FEEDS 4,500; 3,500 UNDER TENTS; Four Persons Lost Their Lives in Fire Which Cost Old Seaport $12,000,000.
These free archives work better in many ways than similar content in licensed library databases. The publishers can really present their own articles with a better sense of context than we are ever going to see in an aggregated product. Time links each article to the cover image for that issue, for example.
But more importantly, the free stuff is just much easier to work with — these links can be bookmarked, blogger, saved to del.icio.us or others sites without having to worry about access and authentication issues. For example, users have linked to many relevant articles for many of the photographs the Library of Congress has added to Flickr, as in this example:
German Doctors at Ellis Island.