What did people read in newspapers in the 17th century? We now know thanks to a collaboration between the KB and the Dutch Language Institute. During a project that has run for several years, historical linguist Nicoline van der Sijs and some 300 volunteers have now transcribed 109.000 articles from 13 17th century newspapers.
19 million words
The fact that these newspapers can now be easily read and digitally searched is special because computers normally don't recognise the Gothic letters that newspapers used back then. Also, the newspapers in the KB collection have sometimes aged significantly, making them difficult to read. In order to make these rare newspapers more accessible, historical linguist Nicoline van der Sijs opted to have them transcribed. She found a few hundred volunteers who were able to decipher the letters as well as the 17th-century Dutch language. Thanks to their help, more than 109 thousand articles - comprising a total of 19 million words – can now be found on Delpher.
Contents of the 17th-century newspapers
In these 350-year-old newspapers, all kinds of subjects are reported on. There are articles about robberies, murders and other crimes, as well as stories about wars and ships of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). Shopkeepers offered their wares in advertisements and citizens reported missing children, dogs and horses.
Readable for everyone
The articles are available for everyone on the National Library's digitised books, newspapers and magazines platform Delpher, free of charge. They can now also be read via Couranten Corpus, the Dutch Language Institute database that specifically contains the 17th century transcribed newspapers. A handy function has also been added there: if you place the cursor on a 17th-century word, the contemporary translation appears. The texts have also been provided with metadata, to aid search queries, such as: the name of the newspaper, the date, the type of news and other information.
Important for researchers
The newspapers are not only fun to read, they also provide important information for researchers. Thanks to the articles, linguistic developments can for instance be studied. The articles also enhance our understanding of what life and society were like in those days.
Newspapers in the 17th century
It was in the beginning of the 17th century that the first newspapers appeared in Western Europe. The newspapers the KB digitised are the oldest newspapers that were published in the Republic. Newspapers were immediately a great success in our country. During the 17th century more and more titles appeared. People often passed newspapers to each other or read them in the pub. There they also read the articles to each other.
Continuation of the project
Meanwhile, the KB has even more newspapers from the 17th century available. This autumn the KB and the Institute for Dutch Language will start a follow-up project to make these more searchable as well. Because the technology has been improved, this time around the texts will first be read by computers. After that, volunteers will correct the texts and add metadata.