Unearthing Submarine Cables in Oregon’s History

Hayley G. Brazier shares with us how she’s been using Historic Oregon Newspapers in her dissertation research!

Hayley G. Brazier

Hayley G. Brazier

Can you tell us a little about your project and yourself?

I am a PhD candidate in the Department of History at the University of Oregon. My primary research field is environmental history, which means I study the history of human exchanges with the environment in past times. We understand that all human history has an environmental context. I came to this field with a long-standing obsession with American history coupled with an environmentalist’s passion. For my dissertation, I am focusing on marine environmental history, in particular, how the development of deep-sea infrastructure has influenced larger stories of politics, diplomacy, and capitalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In addition to my research, I currently work as the program coordinator for the Digital Humanities @ UO (dh.uoregon.edu), so incorporating digital research from Historic Oregon Newspapers into my dissertation is a nice marriage of both of my interests.


What led you to Historic Oregon Newspapers?

I am using Historic Oregon Newspapers to find any mention of the installation of submarine cables both in the Atlantic and the Pacific in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In those results, I am first looking for articles that provide historical data on which companies landed those cables, on which dates, and in which locations. Once I have collected that data, those names and dates can guide me to additional archival collections. Searching historic newspapers can be a great method for getting a sense of a historical topic and an important stepping stone for further archival research. I am also using Historic Oregon Newspapers to gauge how Oregonians, and Americans in general, felt about the deep sea and submarine technologies; were they discussing it? Was it part of a common imagination, like outer space came to be in the mid-twentieth century? So, Historic Oregon Newspapers is helping me gauge a regional interest in a larger American trend.


How do you perform research on Historic Oregon Newspapers?

Historic Oregon Newspapers is definitely one of the better databases I have used. Other digital newspaper collections can be difficult to access, particularly if you live in a different state and they require a library card. Also, many databases charge expensive subscription fees, and that’s a real difficulty for graduate students like myself who are usually low on funds. So, I really appreciate that there are no obstacles to begin researching on Historic Oregon Newspapers. I can see accurate search results within seconds of arriving to the site without logging in, submitting advanced search criteria, or choosing between various catalogues or collections.

Because Historic Oregon Newspapers encompasses articles from a broad date range (1846-2017), the database results can reveal interesting trends. For example, if I search “submarine cable” and get a ton of articles from the 1910-1930s, but almost no articles for the 1880s-1900s, then those result could indicate that submarine cables were finally becoming a household topic in Oregon by the 1910s-1930s, even if the first submarine cables were created in the previous century.

On Historic Oregon Newspapers, there is a keyword search function that very helpfully populates a list of pertinent articles and then highlights that word in red within the article (my goodness, what time saver!). From that list, I can choose the newspaper article that has the most highlighted keywords, which helps me narrow in on an article that will be most relevant to my research.  I have found this keyword highlight function to be good at catching words even when the original document’s text has faded with age. Another helpful feature the database provides is the option to save articles as a PDF, which I use often. I can save the PDF directly to my primary source folders in Zotero. This PDF functions eliminates the needs to take screen shots of the article.

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