Historical Newspapers. The Zeit.Punkt NRW-Portal

By Linda Rath

Editorial note: Linda Rath graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history from the Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf in 2022. Her interests include the history of medicine and epidemics in the early 20th century and the socio-political aspects of power and power structures in the European Middle Ages. She completed her internship at the GHI Washington, DC, in the fall of 2022.

Working with historical source materials is the bread and butter of any historian. When I started studying history at the university, however, working with primary sources seemed intimidating. Questions like: “Where is the newspaper I’m looking for even located?” or:“Is it even relevant for my topic?” along with the concern that I would have to visit every archive in the greater region I was researching were on my mind. Consequently, I ended up refraining from using historical newspapers for most of my studies. Only when I started my bachelor’s thesis about the high infant mortality in Germany the summer of 1911 did I venture into this unknown territory.

The state- and university library Bonn (ULB Bonn), along with the university library Münster (ULB Münster)- initiated the newspaper portal. While the ULB Bonn already had some digitized historical newspapers, patrons didn’t use them as they had expected. Both libraries therefore saw the need to establish a shared space to make a collection of local and regional historical newspapers publicly available online.[1] Supported by the Ministry of Culture and Science North Rhine-Westphalia, the Zeit.PunktNRW-Project digitizes historical newspapers in the geographic area of what is today known as North Rhine-Westphalia, in western Germany.[2] Currently in progress is the digitization of newspapers published between 1801 and 1945.[3] Many of the newspapers that are now available online had previously neither been indexed nor digitized beyond the region. An example for a now digitized newspaper is the Aachener Anzeiger.[4]

One of the goals, according to Dr. Ammendola who oversees the Münsteranian part of the project, is to make as many newspapers available as possible within a short period of time. Therefore, the current focus is on the digitization of microfilmed newspapers, but digitized physical copies will be part of the endeavor in the future.[5] Since the project started in 2017, approximately 12 million pages have been digitized and made accessible to the public. Of those, around 8 million pages have gone through the OCR (Optical Character Recognition) which makes a full-text search possible.[6] Around 50 000 pages a day run through the OCR. Due to the large volume of content, the project is currently the largest of its kind in Germany. Over 70 archives from North Rhine-Westphalia participate in the project. Search filters offer either search via title of a newspaper, location, timeframe or full-text search or a combination of either option.  The portal also provides information about name-changes of newspapers and an overview of all the volumes currently available with a precise index of the publication dates of every newspaper.

One of the key features of portal is that it is open access, and it will remain so. Everyone who is interested in historical newspapers, from students to professional historians to the general public, now have access to a vast amount of primary source materials. Source materials that had been previously hard to obtain can now be easily found, downloaded as a PDF or read on the page instantly. Especially fragile or last-of-its kind physical copies can once more be distributed to a wide audience. By making valuable primary source materials available and by preserving it for future generations, this project plays an important role in the digitization of key sources that enable historical scholarship in Germany.

The Zeit.PunktNRW-Project provides students with a valuable and easily accessible tool for historical research. Historians and other scholars rely on the availability and accessibility of primary sources. Yet, sometimes the lack of accessibility sometimes poses very real limitations to the work of seasoned historians and students alike. For those students who are just beginning to work with primary sources, a joint database or portal focusing on newspapers from a specific geographical region, such as the Zeit.Punkt.NRW, offers guidance and serves as a solid starting point for historical research. Depending on one’s topic, the portal may even provide the main source for the materials a student or professional scholar needs.

During the research for my Bachelor-thesis I’ve worked often with Zeit.PunktNRW. As someone who was new to the use of historical newspapers, the portal provided me with a quick overview of the available sources and made it possible for me to evaluate whether I had sufficient materials for my thesis. The portal saved me time during my research, and sometimes even helped me translating texts through the full-text search when my ability to read older typefaces was lacking. In my opinion the project offers many opportunities for research, whether you pursue it as a hobby or as part of your historical studies at a university. The portal provides an introduction to the changing landscape of historical sources in a digitized world, and offers a solution to some of the challenges present and future historians face when dealing with historical newspapers.

I’d like to thank the University of Münster and especially Dr. Andrea Ammendola for their very kind help during the research process for this article.


[1] Interview with Andrea Ammendola, University of Münster. 09.07.2022.

[2] https://zeitpunkt.nrw/wiki/project, (last viewed 09.21.2022).

[3] „Die Digitalisierung historischer Zeitungen in NRW und das Portal zeitpunkt.NRW“, von Michael Herkenhoff in: Pro Libris 24/4 (2019), S. 156f.

[4]https://zeitpunkt.nrw/search?query=%28dc.title%3D%28aachener+anzeiger%29%29+and+vl.domain%3D%28zdiginrw%29+sortBy+dc.date&truncate=on&operation=searchRetrieve&vlsearch_sortBy=dc.date&index1=dc.title&term1=aachener+anzeiger&bool1=and&index2=bib.originPlace&term2=&bool2=and&index3=dc.date&term3=&bool3=and&index4=dc.date-to&term4=&bool4=and&vlFulltext= (last viewed 09.27.2022.

[5] Interview with Andrea Ammendola, University of Münster. 09.07.2022.

[6] https://zeitpunkt.nrw/ (last viewed 09.21.2022).



„Die Digitalisierung historischer Zeitungen in NRW und das Portal zeitpunkt.NRW,“ by Michael Herkenhoff. Pro Libris 24/4 (2019), p. 156-57. 

Interview with Andrea Ammendola, University of Münster. 09.07.2022.

Zeitpunkt NRW Wiki, https://zeitpunkt.nrw/wiki/project (last viewed 09.21.2022).

Cite this blog post
katharina hering (2022, September 29). Historical Newspapers. The Zeit.Punkt NRW-Portal. h r e f. Retrieved June 16, 2024, from https://href.hypotheses.org/2315