Even before the so-called digital revolution, newspapers were curious things. Because they were chronicling “news”–which is, by definition, a fleeting, temporary thing–they came printed on very cheap, very temporary paper. If properly cared for, paper can last for centuries, but newspapers were always meant to get tossed after a day or so. Far from an insult, the term “yesterday’s news” is a cold reality in the journalism business.
Maybe that’s why I find the University of Hawaii Library’s Digital Newspaper Project so intriguing. In the 19th century, Hawaii was rich with multitudes of newspapers, not all of which were published in English. These papers represent a unique trove of information about life in Hawaii in the days when most people looked to broadsheets for news and events.
The Project recently archived the Pacific Commercial Advertiser, which published between 1856 and 1921, when it merged with the Honolulu Advertiser. It was a tragic but fascinating era, and the paper was there through it all.
“Of particular interest is the PCA’s ‘Local Brevities’ column,” states a Sept. 5 email from the University Library. “From 1884, it chronicled the comings and goings, life events, deaths and even musings of people living in Hawai‘i–a feed of information that was essentially Hawai‘i’s first Facebook!”
The column was, of course, nothing like Facebook. But that trivialising of the paper’s journalism aside, the digital newspaper archive is clearly becoming a fantastic source for information about life in Hawaii.
“There are notices about locals’ health and tidings, want ads and sales, as well as names and activities of guests who had arrived in town,” continued the news release. “The notices are quite detailed–dates, places, times–and occasionally contain little jokes and bon mots. People with long-established roots in Hawai’i may even discover a relative.”
For more information, visit Hdnp.hawaii.edu.