A tale of two islandsApril 17th, 2012
If you’re a Papers Past user and you haven’t tried Tim Sherratt’s QueryPic tool you might want to check it out. It uses the DigitalNZ API to search Papers Past for the frequency of search terms and graphs the results. If that doesn’t make any sense then take a look at this example: “South Island” compared to “Middle Island”.
I’ve been looking at a lot of maps lately, and started wondering when the South Island (as we call it) stopped being called the Middle Island (as it appears on many historic maps). The graph suggests that between 1880 and 1890 “South Island” started to be used more, and by 1900 “Middle Island” was hardly used at all.
But there’s more: clicking on the dots on QueryPic shows the first 20 search results for that year. Clicking on the little red dot for “Middle Island” in 1907 reveals three articles, explaining that in July of that year the Hon. R. McNab issued instructions to the Lands and Survey Department that the name Middle Island is not to be used in future.
The Thames Star has an interesting article on other names used, but this New Zealand Tablet story explains the "sundry verbal pitfalls" a lot better:
I’ve learned all sorts of things from this exercise. For example, that Aotearoa was the Maori name for the North Island only in those days, not for New Zealand as a whole. (Wikipedia confirms it.)
QueryPic is a novel way into Papers Past, and but there are one or two issues you should understand before relying on it. First, as @wragge himself notes:
DigitalNZ currently searches article titles only, while Trove searches the full text. This means the total results for Papers Past are lower than you might expect. It also makes it hard to create meaningful comparisons between countries. Hopefully this will change in the future.
Second, there are only 70 titles in Papers Past, but hundreds have been published in New Zealand, so you do not get complete coverage, nor even a representative sample.
Third, DigitalNZ has indexed the title of each newspaper, and sometimes the place where it is published.
Taken in combination, this means that some words and phrases will skew your results. For example, take a look at this search for “Wellington” and “Evening Post”:
The graph suggests that in 1839 and 1841 every article in Papers Past was about Wellington. What’s actually happened is that every article in those years is from the “New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator”, and DigitalNZ is including the newspaper title in its searches. Similarly, the majority of Papers Past content from 1920s onward is from the Evening Post.
A search for Auckland, “New Zealander” and “Auckland Star” reveals a new wrinkle: every article from the New Zealander is returned by a search for Auckland, even though the word ‘Auckland’ is not in the text. In short, you need to be careful if you’re searching for place or newspaper names.
Here are some other interesting comparisons:
Give it a try, and post a link in the comments to interesting things you dig up.