About the Initiative
Newspapers and journals from the past constitute one of the more clear-sighted vantage points for acquainting ourselves with bygone eras. These sources enable us to learn about historic events, track processes as they emerged, encounter figures and read the fruit of their labor. Moreover, they call attention to surprising information and allow us to experience the past from a wide range of angles, such as daily news items, the economy, culture, ideological views, and more. As a result, periodicals are an important resource for scholars as well as a portal for anyone wishing to access history through the words of its contemporaries.
The National Library of Israel holds an invaluable collection of Arabic periodicals that were published in the Land of Israel Palestine between 1908 and 1948. Among the titles are daily newspapers with an emphasis on current events; satirical magazines; and social, educational, and cultural journals, which were published on a more-or-less regular basis (weeklies, bi-weeklies, monthlies, etc.). Some of the publishers were government bodies or public institutions, while others were private initiatives. A few of the newspapers operated throughout most of or during the entire period under review. The majority had smaller runs, with some longer than others.
The Arabic newspaper made its debut in Palestine towards the end of the nineteenth century. By 1948, approximately 250 titles had been published. About half of these periodicals, either fully or partially, can be found in the NLI's illuminating collection, the likes of which one would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Given the ravages of time, we are digitizing these items and transforming the corpus into a searchable user-friendly database — all to improve the periodicals' accessibility to the general public. During the pilot phase of the project, we followed the recommendation of our academic steering committee and scanned the two "bookends" of the chronological period: 1908 to 1920; and 1945 to 1948. In the next phase, we plan to digitize material that came out between these two ends (i.e., 1921-1944), in order to provide a continuous archive of the period.
Going forward, we are seeking partners — both institutions and private collectors — to contribute new titles to the digital collection and to fill in gaps in the featured titles. If you are interested and able to contribute material, please contact us.
—Raquel Ukeles, PhD, Curator of the Islam and Middle East Collection
Jrayed's academic advisory committee provides guidance on selecting the digitized titles and contributes to the website's content. Committee members:
Professor Ami Ayalon, Tel Aviv University
Dr. Nabih Bashir
Professor Hillel Cohen, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Dr. Yoni Furas, Haifa University
Dr. Abigail Jacobson, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Professor Mustafa Kabha, The Open University of Israel
Dr. Merav Mack, The Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Dr. Yonatan Mendel, Ben Gurion University of the Negev
Professor Mahmoud Yazbak, Haifa University
The Technologies behind this Project
The scans of the newspapers appearing in this website were made from one of two possible sources: the paper original or microfilm. Every effort is made to use the very best copy, which is determined by both quality and completeness of the inventory of the newspaper editions. This is no easy task, especially since historical newspapers undergo a constant process of wear and disintegration and collections are almost always partial. In this sense, the efforts to scan archival material in general and historical newspapers in particular, are part of an important mission to save information, which otherwise might be lost forever. As stated, the decision to either photograph a newspaper page or scan from microfilm is made based on the state of the material and integrity of the collection, with preference given to scanning from the paper source, to the extent that this is possible.
All the materials appearing on the site were scanned photographed in the digitization center of the National Library, expressly for this project. The newspapers that were scanned from microfilm appear in black and white (binary) or grey tone. In cases where we photographed scanned material from colored paper, we tried our best to photograph in color in order to remain loyal as much as possible to the original.
The quality of the scan photograph of the materials included in the project is 300 DPI (in some of the material, also 400 DPI).
Materials originating in newsprint were scanned photographed using a PENTAX Z645 camera a PANASONIC KV S5055C scanner and CANON 5d camera.
Materials originating in microfilm were scanned in an Eclipse by Nextscan microfilm scanner. Following scanning photography all material underwent careful QA and minimal graphic processing (as needed).
2. Accessibility Platform and Manual Typing of Titles and Names of Authors
In many online projects of historical newspapers all the scanned materials undergo Optical Character Recognition (OCR), writing identification technology. After many trials with various OCR programs, in this project we decided not to use this technology. The reason is that the results of Arabic language OCR are low (20–30% success rate). Hence the benefits are inadequate for performing text searches. To circumvent this obstacle we have chosen a system that incorporates manual typing of article headlines and author names. This method, while not optimal in comparison to full OCR – has the advantage of rendering the digital archive at least partially searchable.
Manual typing of titles and authors’ names presented us with a dilemma: what to do when a certain word is printed with a “mistake”, which may in fact not be a mistake, but only a different system of spelling which was acceptable at the time. The decision we took was to not correct any “mistake,” but to type accurately what was printed in the original. This, of course impacts the search results, and therefore, if you do not find what you are looking for, it is recommended to play with the spelling of the search word, and this holds especially for words not originating in Arabic (for example, spelling of ايتالية instead of ايطالية).
LINKS TO RELATED DIGITAL RESOURCES
There are numerous projects for digitizing Middle Eastern newspapers. The projects highlighted here have digitized periodicals from the Land of Israel Palestine:
Digital collection of the historic Jewish and Hebrew press, including 5 Hebrew periodicals from Ottoman Palestine and 12 Hebrew and English titles from Mandatory Palestine. Project: JPress: Historical Jewish Press website of the National Library of Israel and Tel-Aviv University.