The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Would that be considered optimistic or pessimistic? Is it really true or just one of those things people say in cliche form? While reading microfilm archives of the Harnett County News at the Harnett County Library yesterday, I found my evidence that many things do stay the same. Collectively, society changes and stays the same. Advertisements and news articles reveal very similar issues to those in today’s media. For example, an article in the 1934 Harnett County News questioned if movies are bad for children’s health, with subsequent articles following. I had to laugh in amazement and amusement; current articles about movies or television and the effect on children are easy to find. The 1934 news reported foreclosures, murders, new highways, community events, births, deaths, marriages, visitors in town. Advertisements proclaimed sale prices, quality, trust, and odd medicinal fads. The main difference, to me, was that most papers do not print social engagements anymore, or at least not as prominently.
While I have seen many old newspaper articles, I have seldom used microfilm in my research, partially because it was unnecessary and partially because it makes me terribly nauseous, and I suppose that only by scanning many weeks of the paper can one get a true overview of the issues of the time. While it would be nice to assume that problems of 75 years ago have been fixed by now, it’s comforting to realize that people are people and despite flaws, society continues to move forward and thrive in spite of the obstacles. And the tragedies of yesterday such as segregation, tuberculosis, child labor, etc. have been addressed and generally corrected, if you will. We have come a long way. Granted, they have been replaced by new tragedies, but it gives me faith that these, too, will be erased. For those who feel disconnected from history, perhaps browsing the old newspapers will bring a stronger sense of understanding and legacy and be able to relate to historical events and figures.
One note about newspaper research: just as today’s paper will misquote people and get information incorrect, historical news articles are likely to have the same problems. Don’t take every detail as an absolute truth. (I constantly find names and dates associated with Overhills to be incorrect, which is why I say this.)
Aside from these lessons, I discovered that microfilm no longer makes me nauseous and it is a lot of fun – not an everyday kind of fun, but a good research excursion when necessary. And I’ll take the opening statement as optimistic.