The spread of famine news

 

In two of my classes this semester – the environments seminar and the disasters methods class – I’ve been pushing students to think about what makes a good historical question, but also about what questions can be asked of different kinds of sources.  As I have a (brief, golden) respite from grading today, I thought I’d turn that question back on some of my dissertation data, and particularly what I’ve collected on incidences of famine reports around the Atlantic.  I also wanted to play with MapStory, and to hash out some ideas that I’m going to present in a more formal mode in a talk at Davidson near the end of the semester.

I started with the 6000+ entries in my famine report database, each record of which contains text from a newspaper, along with date, place of publication and the theme tags that I used to organize each chapter.  I’ve worked in the past on visualizations that show how newspapers drew on one another, but that was a static image – it didn’t capture famine reports across time and space.

 

Famine citations
Click for fullsize

This visualization obviously doesn’t show how these newspapers are drawing on one another, but it does tell us something quite important about how famine news is moving.  Although individual stories took weeks to cross the Atlantic, after the first reports on the crisis began to appear in American newspapers, famine reports continued to “burst” on both sides of the ocean.

 

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