Thanks to Schelly at Tracing the Tribe for the heads-up about Footnote.com and another of its free offers: this one making its historical newspaper collection free for the month of May.
Footnote’s historical papers are at http://go.footnote.com/newspapers/. The site claims four million pages. Before you start in with the keyword searching, though, explore the galleries on the front page, including vintage comics, news of the weird, and “outrageous ads.” As with the other content, you will need to be logged in (accounts are free) to explore the galleries. After you have amused yourself with Nancy building robots and the Post Toasties ad, you can browse (newspapers from 46 states are available) or do a keyword search. (You can also use the browse page to search with newspapers from a particular state if you like.)
My keyword search for circus found 88,156 results, with further refinements available, including newspaper, last name, place, and year. Confining myself to the Chicago Tribune still gave me about 15,000 results. Sometimes the search results gave me a snippet of context, sometimes I just got that the OCR software had found the word circus. You have the option to exclude OCR-only results, but that’ll leave you with a much reduced number.
The papers are browsable page by page, which is horribly distracting because they have everything — ads, photographs, comics, etc. Occasionally dark and smudgy, but the papers were always readable.
One thing I like about this collection (and which you’ll find different from a lot of other collections) is how recent some of the newspapers are. I did a search for computer and found a newspaper with a computer ad from 1989. There aren’t as many recent newspapers available, of course, but it’s a nice addition after so many collections that don’t go past 1930 or so.
You’ve got ’til the end of May to enjoy this collection from Footnote. Just be strong and don’t find yourself going through all the pages of a 1923 newspaper, gawping at the ads and totally forgetting what you were searching…