Interpreting Newspaper Clippings

Why are newspaper clippings useful primary sources?

Newspaper clippings contain lots of interesting information, and sometimes you can be surprised about what is the most useful. For example, reading an article may provide useful information, but the advertisements surrounding it can also tell you a lot about consumer culture and public opinion. The adverts in the example below demonstrate the encouragement of public support for the war effort.

How to interpret newspaper clippings

Example

Source: CHAR 8/694 image 27

Description: Newspaper clipping from the Sunday Dispatch of “An Anglo-American Union”, an article by Winston Churchill

Date: 8 August 1941



Method

1. Think about what this source is

This newspaper clipping from August 1941 was included in the Churchill Archive because it contains an article by Winston Churchill about the courtship of his parents.

2. Consider the background

The article about Churchill’s parents is only one of the interesting pieces of evidence one could draw from this section of the newspaper, however. This edition of the Sunday Dispatch contains many more articles, images and advertisements that may also be of interest to scholars.

3. Consider what surface level information you can interpret from the clipping

Ask yourself:

  • What products are being advertised in the Sunday Dispatch?
  • How do these advertisements compare to those that you see in modern newspapers or magazines?

4. Consider what deeper level information you can interpret from the clipping

Ask yourself:

  • What strategies do advertisers use to sell their products?
  • Which products seem aimed at men and which at women? How can you tell? Do you notice any trends among advertisements aimed at one gender or the other?
  • Not all of the advertisements are promoting commercial products. Some are more like government public information notices. How do they reference the war and the living conditions during it? What do they encourage people to do to support the war effort or pitch in to make living conditions at home more tolerable during the war?
  • What do the advertisements reveal about prevailing values or attitudes from the time towards the war, gender roles or anything else?

Need more help?

If you would like to compare the advertisements from this newspaper to American advertising in the same period, this resource from Duke University offers advertisements for many different kinds of products from throughout American history.

You might also like to explore our investigations on Anglo-American relations to gain an insight into why an article about Churchill’s parents’ courtship was published at this point in the war.

How do I interpret other types of primary source?