A tale of two islands

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”.

QueryPic results for 'Middle Island' against 'South Island' QueryPic results for "Middle Island" against "South 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:

The official title, 'Middle Island,' never 'caught on' in popular usage in New Zealand. A few days ago it was officially buried, and the universal popular designation, ‘South Island,’ officially substituted. Stewart Island — also known officially as ‘The South Island of New Zealand’ — will henceforth be known in official documents by its former name alone. These official name-changes will deprive Parliament and Parliamentarians of one chance of enlivening debate and pre-sessional speech with sundry verbal pitfalls. The statement that ‘there is not a mile of railway open in the South Island’ will, for instance, no longer bring an indignant legislator to his feet with a portentous denial — and leave him, a moment later, wondering ‘where the laughter came in.’ Nor will Sir Joseph Ward be able to repeat successfully the joke which he ‘worked off’ a few years ago on an unwary member of an audience in Central Otago. ‘I stand here,’ said Sir Joseph, ‘as the sole representative of the South Island in the Parliament of New Zealand.’ Thereupon a State school teacher, who was known to be very much, 'agin the Gover'ment,' rose and with portentous solemnity ‘corrected’ the speaker. He received in reply a lesson in official geographical nomenclature which tickled the audience hugely, but left the 'dominie's' feelings black and blue. It will be a relief to him and to others that the confusion is now at an end, and that, in the matter of island-names, popular and official usage are at last on all fours. But what a pity we did not keep to the liquid, vowelly old Maori names for the two big islands — Waipounamu for the South Island, and for the North, Ao-tea-roa (The Long White Cloud)! (New Zealand Tablet, 1 August 1907, Page 22) New Zealand Tablet, 1 August 1907, Page 22

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”:

QueryPic results for 'Wellington' and 'Evening Post'.QueryPic results 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:

QueryPic results for 'Butter' and 'Margarine'.QueryPic results for "Butter" and "Margarine".

QueryPic results for 'Rugby' and 'Cricket'.QueryPic results for "Rugby" and "Cricket".

QueryPic results for a whole lot of sportsQueryPic results for a whole lot of sports - further investigation is required into what kind of “football” the papers were talking about.

Give it a try, and post a link in the comments to interesting things you dig up.

By Gordon Paynter

Gordon likes libraries.

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Donna April 17th at 3:43PM

Fascinating. I was keen to compare use of Maori versus Maoris http://wraggelabs.com/shed/querypic/?q=%22maori%22|nz&q=%22maoris%22|nz

Gordon April 17th at 4:03PM

Did you try adding "native" and "natives": http://wraggelabs.com/shed/querypic/?q=%22maori%22|nz&q=%22maoris%22|nz&q=%22natives%22|nz&q=%22native%22|nz

p May 25th at 12:04AM

DigitalNZ currently searches article titles only, while Trove searches the full text.