Search seven million archived newspaper articles as new project goes live
- Credit: Archant
A Google-backed project giving access to 150 years of Eastern Daily Press newspapers at the click of a button or spoken question will be released as a subscription service today.
Local Recall has digitised the entire EDP newspaper archive, making decades of local reporting and history accessible to the public through voice-activated devices, a research bot you can chat with and a database search tool.
Archant, publisher of the EDP and its sister publications, is home to an archive that holds tens of thousands of newspapers - with some Norwich Mercury editions dating from as far back as the middle of the 18th century.
While it is open to the public three days per week, the articles, adverts and stories contained in these fragile bound volumes are mostly inaccessible and rarely see the light of day.
In 2017, Archant applied to the Google Digital News Innovation Fund to breathe new life into the archive. The company received £600,000 from Google and part-matched the grant to start Local Recall.
The project began in early 2018 and – with help from Norwich-based artificial intelligence and chatbot company ubisend along with specialist historical scanning companies TownsWeb Archiving and Find My Past – Local Recall has since digitised an estimated 750,000 pages of EDP newspapers.
In the process, more than seven million articles have been uploaded online through a process of high-resolution photography, optical character recognition software and key word extraction, which helps improve search accuracy.
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The digitisation process, while impressive, could not always guarantee exact recreation of the text. Factors such as paper thickness, marks on the page and general wear and tear could hinder results. It became clear there was a need for human eye to pick out errors.
The Local Recall community-sourced editing suite provided a platform for an army of more than 800 volunteers to help proof read and correct the stories and adverts from days gone by.
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Becky Brown, 33, from Cringleford, was one of hundreds to answer the call for volunteers to help digitise the archives. She said: “I signed up straightaway as I have a real love for history and researching.
“I really enjoy bringing local history to life and giving people a voice again after all this time.”
Melanie Duncan, 47, from Hellesdon, got involved in the project after learning about it through Facebook. “There are articles which have been amusing and incredibly sad as well as interesting and informative,” she said. “I remember one or two from 1879 about the Zulu War, something I had only seen about in films.
“It’s a window of memories into the intimate past that we might have no knowledge of otherwise. The project is an invaluable source of accessible information. I have enjoyed every minute of doing it so far.”
Robin Keightley, 68, from Oulton Broad, added: “Working on the project is a bit like time travel, it has given me a wonderful insight into our region from the past.
“For anyone who has an interest in our region’s history, this project is a must.”
Chris Amos, the Local Recall project manager, said: “I cannot believe how much interesting material I have seen that directly relates to events, people or places you have a personal connection with.
“You can look up the headlines from your birthday, search your family name and find stories about your old school or the first place you had a Saturday job.
“I stumbled on an article using the search tool about a prisoner of war from Norwich who was captured in Burma, and then realised that the house he had lived in was where my best friend lived while we were growing up.
“Local Recall provides a way to reconnect with everything from local triumph and tragedy to breaking international news. Now they can be played back to a large audience in a variety of different ways which is even better.”
Alex Debecker, chief marketing officer of ubisend, said: “Local Recall is an exciting product for anyone, young or old, who is interested in Norfolk history. The ability for anyone to uncover fascinating archives through voice devices is unique and a great experience.
“There is something special about engaging with history with your voice. From the comfort of your home, from your mobile – you’re exploring the past through simple conversations.
“Turning millions of news articles into a voice-controlled experience was an exciting challenge for ubisend. We look forward to seeing how Local Recall users enjoy the platform.”
Local Recall goes live today. Users can explore the EDP archives from October 1870 right up to the latest breaking news through a subscription service available on monthly and annual price plans.
Visit localrecall.co.uk to learn more and subscribe.
How does Local Recall work?
Asking questions using voice-recognition technology is one of the fastest growing search methods available online today. Local Recall works on Amazon and Google voice-activated devices such as Alexa or Google Nest Hub and even compatible mobile phones.
Strike up a conversation with the devices and ask questions like:
Read me an article about Norwich Castle?
What happened on this day in 1970?
Tell me about Cromer Pier in 1955?
What were the headlines on the 13th of December 1991?
Local Recall will then search the database of digitised articles and suggest three to choose from that satisfy the enquiry – which it can then read aloud to you.
Another way to find information online is to
interact with chatbot technology – many companies use it as part of their customer or help services. Local Recall
is home to Archie the research bot – a form of conversational software much like a
personal archive assistant, built using the latest chatbot technology.
After logging into the Local Recall website, you can type or say questions on the research bot webpage and Archie will fetch three articles for you to read at your leisure on the screen in response.
Explore the archives with more detailed inquiries using Local Recall’s lightning-fast search tool that puts more than 750,000 pages of content right at your fingertips. Enter up to 10 search terms including date ranges, headlines or keywords and prepare to go down the rabbit hole with your research.
Whether you want to read the front page in 1953 announcing the floods in Norfolk, or see what the reader letters looked like soon after Anglia Square was built, it’s incredible what the search tool can find.