Readex’s American Business: Agricultural Newspapers is a valuable, but in many ways disappointing collection. When complete, it will contain 238 farm newspapers from the 19th and late 18th centuries, the heyday of rural America. About 20% of the projected 238 titles are forthcoming.1 Over half of the titles currently available are represented by ten or fewer issues;2 almost half of the titles currently available are represented by five or fewer issues;3 and 33% of the titles are represented by a single issue.4 Only 58 of the newspapers have fifty or more issues.
Geographical coverage is national, with the bulk of the issues coming from the northeast, which one would expect given both the time period, and the nature of periodical publishing: many of the farm newspapers published in New York, for example, would have circulated nationally, so place of publication is not necessarily a good indicator of readership, although many of the newspapers here were published specifically for regional audiences.
The era covered by the collection almost exactly coincides with America’s period as a largely agrarian nation. The collection creators seem to have missed the point that, in a largely agrarian nation, not every paper with the word “farmer” in the title was an agricultural newspaper. The Farmer’s Gazette of Sparta, Georgia, for example, was just a typical, antebellum country newspaper–not an agricultural newspaper, and certainly not a specimen of the agricultural business press, as the collection’s title (“American Business: Agricultural Newspapers”) would suggest. In fact, many farmers of this period were subsistence or small-scale cash crop farmers with little or no access to the big commodity markets.
Still, this collection contains several important, bona fide farm newspapers, like the California Farmer, for which researchers will be thankful to have in digitized format. And, it complements the agricultural newspaper collection Farm, Field, and Fireside, which was created here by the History, Philosophy, and Newspaper Library.
Like much of Readex’s work, these newspapers were digitized at the lowest possible bit depth,5 which means low quality, and often blotchy images. Fortunately, the resolution is high enough that, when resized, the words are legible (when the defects of the source microfilm were not impossible to overcome):
1. 52 titles.
2. 102 titles.
3. 89 titles.
4. 61 of the titles in the collection have only one issue.
5. Bit depth of the images we sampled was 1, which means simple black-and-white images (as opposed to grayscale or color).
Go to American Business: Agricultural Newspapers now.