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Revealing history through studying newspapers and periodicals

Author  :  ZHANG JIE     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2018-10-30

Newspapers and periodicals are an important part of document literature, and their unique historical value is drawing increasing attention from academic circles. Some scholars consider it important, within the framework of interaction with society, to explore the historical trajectory of the development of newspapers and periodicals and the way that history demonstrates itself within them.

Compared with traditional literature data such as archives, newspapers and periodicals record the dynamics of all aspects of society—political, economic, social, cultural and customary—enriching the sense of reality of academic studies. 

Wang Tiangen, a professor of communication from Anhui University, said that newspapers and periodicals, together with archives, diaries and inscriptions on tablets, constitute literature. However, newspapers and periodicals distinguish themselves from the other forms of literature for they are updated and public. Newspapers and periodicals can reflect new movements and new lifestyles, he said. As a medium spreading public information, newspapers and periodicals are more easily accessible and usable.

Liu Zengren, a professor from Qingdao University, took periodicals from the humanities as examples to remind us to notice how periodicals integrate many forms of content . In addition to the articles published in a periodical, the cover, foreword, editor’s note, afterword and even the advertisements reflect the circumstances of the time when it was published, he said. Some contents and forms may not seem in direct relationship to literature, however, they can reflect the atmosphere of the literary circle and the relationship between these intellectuals.. This information may help us restore the scene where the history of literature occurs and enter the historical context of that age. 

In studies of modern history, newspapers and periodicals also have unique advantages and value. They can, to some extent, be valuable supplements to official documents and official history books and records. Before the emergence of modern newspapers and periodicals, most materials for studying the history of thought were provided by all kinds of publications, for example, historical books officially or privately written, genealogical books recording the history of a certain family as well as local chronicles and some document materials, particularly personal writings, diaries and letters, said Zheng Dahua, a research fellow from the Institute of Modern History at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Modern newspapers and periodicals have become another important source of data for studying history of thought, he said.

Digital technology makes newspapers and periodicals more easily available to researchers. Wang said that scholars of many disciplines dig into them. For example, scholars of literary studies explore materials that are supplementary to them, scholars of communication and economics study the advertisements, while scholars of legal studies investigate the legal documents published in them. 

Wang suggested that studies of the history of newspapers and periodicals have made some achievements in terms of content study, but they do little in revealing the connection between political events in history and certain media events. Academic scholars should combine the study of text and discourse in newspapers and periodicals with interpretation of the social events published in the newspapers and periodicals, he said, adding that this will help explore the relationship between newspapers and periodicals and the construction of public opinion.

For Zheng, the interactive relationship between newspapers and periodicals and society is, generally speaking, about how newspapers and periodicals influence society through public opinion. He also explores how society influences the principles of the management, the publishing of content and the column design of newspapers and periodicals so that they can attract more readers. In other words, the discourse and content of newspapers and periodicals are closely related to the society in which they belong. Therefore, Zheng concluded, scholars should study the social background of the birth and existence of newspapers and periodicals and their interactive relationship with society. 



(Edited and translated by CHEN ALONG)









Editor: Yu Hui

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