Unit 1 Colonial Newspapers Exercise

PA-JournalSubmit by: Tuesday, October 6, 11:59 p.m.

Before the American Revolution, the British North American colonies boasted several dozen newspapers. Nearly all of them published a four-page issue once each week, which contained a variety of news and information: reports from London and other European cities; news from other colonies; advertisments for goods and services; public notices about a variety of issues; and miscellaneous other pieces. That makes them a valuable source to study the society and culture of colonial North America.

This exercise invites you to practice historical research on the eighteenth century using colonial American newspapers. The questions below will guide you through a series of tasks that model the process of historical research. Answer each question as instructed and include it with your submission.

The database we will be using is called America’s Historical Newspapers and is available through the Whittemore Library website. (Please see the accompanying video on Blackboard that explains how to access and use the database.) It includes thousands of newspaper issues from the colonial and revolutionary eras, and historians use it as a crucial resource to understand early America.


Before you begin, download the Word document attached the Blackboard version of the assignment, which has a template that includes all of the below questions. The easiest way to complete the assignment is simply to write out your responses in your own copy of that document, save your version, and submit it via Blackboard.

To get started, you should use America’s Historical Newspapers to choose one issue of a newspaper published in any colony, on any date between 1730 and 1775 (the dates are important: you may not be able to answer the questions if you wander away from this range). I encourage you to browse widely before you select one to make sure you find one that you think you can use for all of the below questions. Then you’ll answer the following questions:

1. What newspaper and issue did you choose? Why did you select this issue? What other issues did you consider and why did you reject them?

Read the newspaper issue in its entirety, including news and advertisements. (It is possible to download an issue in PDF format from the database, and you may wish to do so.)

2. Catalog the contents of the newspaper. What information does it share?

  • What was the name of the person (or people) who printed or published the newspaper?
  • In what town was it published?
  • From what other places did the news in the newspaper come?
  • What proportion of the newspaper included news about affairs in Europe?
  • What proportion of the newspaper included news about other colonies?
  • What proportion of the newspaper included news about the place where the newspaper was published?
  • What proportion of the newspaper was devoted to advertising?
  • What goods and services were advertised?

3. Based on the contents of this newspaper issue, describe who you think the audience for the newspaper was in about a paragraph. Include examples from the newspaper as justification for your response.

4. Select one news paragraph that was originally published in a colonial town other than the one where the newspaper was published. Try to locate the original source of the paragraph using the research database. In your answer, describe the process you used, including any search terms or browsing techniques.

5. Was slavery discussed explicitly in the newspaper issue? If so, how? If not, why do you think that might be?

6. In what ways can one see slavery as part of the economic system in the newspaper even when it was not mentioned explicitly? Discuss at least one example. If you can’t find any implicit references, why do you think that might be?

7. How did what you found in the newspaper reflect and/or challenge what you know about colonial America based on our other work in Unit 1?


  • You should write your answers in complete sentences.
  • For all quotations, you should reproduce the grammar, syntax, and spelling of the original newspaper.
  • You may make reference to any course materials that you find helpful, but you should not use any outside materials besides the research database. If you do use something else from the course, please be sure to include a citation.
  • The essay should represent your own work. You are welcome (encouraged!) to talk to me and/or to seek assistance through CASA, but you should not work with classmates on the assignment.