CfP: Digitised newspapers, a new Eldorado for historians?


CfP: Digitised newspapers, a new Eldorado for historians?

Epistemology, methodology, tools and the changing practice of historiography in the context of mass digitisation of newspapers.

24-25.04.2020, Lausanne (Switzerland)

The large-scale digitisation of newspapers over the past decade has facilitated access to newspaper collections but also raised a series of issues for both libraries and users, and more specifically researchers: What does it mean to work in new ways with the traditional historical source that are newspapers? How does the formal transformation of this source from analogue, microfilm and paper collections to digital ones affect research practices and questions?

From manual, on- site exploration of microfilm or paper collections to online keyword search over millions of OCRized pages, the access to digitised newspapers collections was significantly facilitated. Beside, digitized sources also lend themselves to further enrichment via text and image processing (e.g. automatic recognition of proper names via named entity processing) and a whole world of new possibilities is opening up with respect to the way historians collect and engage with their research corpora.

An Eldorado? Despite undeniable merits, the digital transformation and the new affordance of historical newspapers via interfaces also brings some drawbacks and possible pitfalls which need to be carefully assessed. These include the noise introduced by automatic recognition of text and document structures (OCR and OLR): what can be searched is not exactly what was printed. Further, full-text search takes readers directly from keywords to articles. It creates a tunnel leading from the list of results to the individual article, concealing the surrounding articles and the context of each press title.

At the same time, such interfaces can contextualise historical sources in new ways and can potentially display and link information on both newspapers themselves and their content. The possibility to download massive collections of text changes the way in which researchers collect and engage with their research corpora,  for instance  with the application of  text mining tools such as topic modelling. But to what extent does it transform the heuristics of historical research?

We invite scholars who are experienced users of online collections of digitised newspapers (e.g. platforms such as AustriaN Newspapers Online (ANNO), the British Newspaper Archive, Europeana and Gallica), to share their research practices, experiences and outcomes. Our goal is to start a conversation about heuristics, source criticism and interpretation for digitised newspapers in particular and digitised historical sources in general.

We welcome contributions dealing with one of the following issues:

1. Historiography and digitised sources: new opportunities for research

●       Impact on the history of the press: new scopes, new obstacles

●       New research opportunities: digitised press as an artefact of the past

●       Extension of sources for the history of thoughts, prosopography, economic history, etc.

2. Source and tool criticism on collections of digitised historical newspapers

●      Transparency and digitisation policies

●       Digital tools for multilingual digitised newspaper corpora

●       “Datafication” criticism: assessing the quality of OCR and document layout analysis and the impact on research

●       (Lack of) interoperability between digitised collections and within multilingual collections

●      Accessibility and copyright

●      Data contextualisation methods

●      Metadata criticism

●       Common criteria to review research using digitised newspaper collections

3. The allure of the digitised archive and writing history

●      Interface criticism

●      Visual exploration of collections

●      The question of source interpretation

●       Hybrid practices combining analogue and digitised newspapers

This conference is being held in connection with the project “impresso: Media monitoring of the past. Mining 200 years of historical newspapers” (, which aims at enabling critical text mining of newspaper archives with the implementation of a technological framework to extract, process, link, and explore information from print media archives. An interface giving access to the semantically enriched content of Swiss and Luxembourgish newspapers is under development. 

The conference will be held on the 24-25 April 2020 in Lausanne, in English. Proposals can however be sent in English, French and German. The full papers will have to be submitted before the conference. After the conference, participants will be invited to submit their conference-paper for publication in an edited book on the epistemology of digital history, published by De Gruyter. The selected authors will have the opportunity to revise their conference-paper until 15 May 2020. They will be peer reviewed for final publication, scheduled for early 2021. Chapters may be written in English, German or French. For papers in German or French, a broad summary in English should be provided by the authors (4,000 characters with spaces).


  • 15.09.2019: deadline for the conference proposal (2,000 characters, with spaces) and a short CV to be sent to
  • 15.11.2019: notification of selected speakers.
  • 15.04.2020: deadline for the full papers (30,000 characters with spaces) to be submitted in French, English or German.
  • 24-25.04.2020: conference in Lausanne.
  • 15.05.2020: deadline for the revised paper.
  • early 2021: book publication.

Scientific committee:

  • Estelle Bunout
  • Frédéric Clavert
  • Simon Clematide
  • Marten Düring
  • Maud Ehrmann
  • Martin Grandjean
  • Caroline Muller
  • Enrico Natale
  • Matteo Romanello
  • Raphaëlle Ruppen Coutaz
  • François Vallotton


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