Unit 2 Colonial Newspapers Exercise

This exercise will invite you to learn about how to do historical research on the eighteenth century using colonial American newspapers. The questions below will guide you through a series of tasks to model 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. (We will go over how to find it in class.) It includes thousands of newspaper issues from the colonial and revolutionary eras, and historians use it as a crucial resource to understand early America.

During class on October 16, there will be a tutorial on how to use the database and you will have time to begin working on the exercise. The final version of your exercise will be due on Monday, October 28 by 11:59 pm via Dropbox.

Submit assignment via Dropbox


1. Select a newspaper from the database. You may choose one from any colony published on any date before 1775. Browse through the available issues and then select one for a closer examination (that is, one entire copy published on a particular date). 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?

  • Who published the newspaper?
  • In what town was it published?
  • From what places does the news in the newspaper come?
  • How much of the news is about affairs in Europe?
  • How much news is about other colonies?
  • How much news is about the place where the newspaper was published?
  • How much of the newspaper is devoted to advertising?
  • What goods and services are 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 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. The specific focus of the unit is on economic life and slavery. Is 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 eighteenth-century America based on our class discussions?


  • 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.
  • The essay should represent your own work. You are welcome (encouraged!) to talk to the instructor and/or to seek assistance through CASA, but you should not work with classmates on the assignment.