Blog posts are written by project team members. Topics range from conferences we attend, musings on current affairs of relevance, internal project findings and news and more succinct content which can be found in our Digital Humanities Case studies or project related publications. Blog posts will mainly be posted in English but will from time to time feature in the language of the project team member’s preference, since we are a multilingual bunch! Happy reading!


Looking Back on NewsEye with The National Library of France

As the NewsEye project will come to an end in January 2022, we are looking back on what we have accomplished since May 2018. Within our final blog series, we are spotlighting the partners and people who have contributed to the project over its 45-month lifespan.

On the banks of the Seine in the French capital stand four eighteen-story towers that highly resemble the shape of open books. Inaugurated in 1995, the largest site of the National Library of France (BnF), named François Mitterrand after the president who held office during its construction, holds millions of items which represent both the written heritage of France and much of the world. Indeed, as detailed on the library’s website, ‘The missions of the BnF are to collect, preserve, enrich and make available the national documentary heritage…’. The library’s historic site, known as Richelieu, lies in the heart of Paris a short walk from the Louvre Museum; two other Parisian sites, Arsenal and Opéra, are open to the public, along with a location focusing on the performing arts in the southern town of Avignon and two centres dedicated to conservation in the parisian suburb of Bussy-Saint-Georges and the small northwestern town of Sablé-sur-Sarthe. Along with the aforementioned physical locations, the BnF also offers its research services via Gallica, an immense digital library which was launched in 1997.

Some of the library’s most highly consulted items are those which form a substantial newspaper collection which spans from 1631’s La Gazette to the present-day. Despite the progress made by massive digitisation campaigns, most of these sources cannot be consulted online due to the sheer number of them; at the time of writing, millions of pages are available to be searched via Gallica and RetroNews, a website which specifically focuses on the BnF’s press archives.  Over the years, the library has been involved in several projects focusing on improving document digitisation, from the European Commission-funded projects Europeana Newspapers and IMPACT (IMproving ACcess to Text), to the French National Research Agency-funded project DIGIDOC.

Building upon these previous experiences, the BnF’s contribution to the NewsEye project has encompassed several dimensions. In the first instance, the library furnished nine newspapers titles in French: La Presse (1836-1935), Le Matin (1884-1944), La Fronde (1897-1929), Marie-Claire (1937-1944), L'Œuvre(1915-1944), Le Gaulois (1868-1929), Candide (1924-1944) and Gringoire (1928-1944). The European edition of the American newspaper The New York Herald Tribune, was also included in the project as a means of adding an English-language corpus for demonstration purposes.

The expertise of certain colleagues at the BnF in the domaines of OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and document digitisation were especially pivotal to the project, especially when research tools needed to be tested. Indeed, the BnF held a unique position in the project between the developers who worked on these tools and their target users (for example, Digital Humanities researchers). In addition, the library was also responsible for both the task of defining a plan for sustaining results after the project’s end and for the organisation of a seminar about the representation of women in digitised historical newspapers and the NewsEye International Conference. Furthermore, following the granting of a project extension due to the COVID 19 pandemic, the BnF was responsible for the Work Package focused on Demonstration, Dissemination, Outreach and Exploitation from May 2021 to January 2022.

This video, which was created by Cédric Rochereul of La Rochelle University, presents the project through the words of collaborators from different countries, institutions and professional backgrounds, including Jean-Philippe Moreux and Amanda Maunoury of the BnF. It was mostly filmed at the François Mitterrand site in October 2020.

The BnF’s role in the NewsEye project was consistent with the institution’s aim to keep track of and be involved in research projects concerning the state of the art in digitisation, since this type of cooperation also contributes to defining future projects and tenders. Furthermore, being involved in the project presented an opportunity for developing various skills while working closely with different types of partners hailing from different European countries. For example, the Digital Humanities research carried out by colleagues from the University Paul-Valéry Montpellier was highlighted in various blog posts on the Gallica website, which were then translated into English and published on the NewsEye blog. It should be also noted that the project coincided with the development of the BnF Data Lab, which was inaugurated in October 2021; the NewsEye demonstrator will be one of the first tools integrated into the lab’s tool box for researchers. Going forward, the BnF has reaffirmed its mission to conserve and promote its vast newspaper collection in its choice of constructing a new national press conservation site in the town of Amiens, which should open to the public in 2028.