We love Papers Past

Earlier this week a number of the Research and Publishing Group headed along to a crowded presentation at the National Library about the revamped Papers Past website.

Papers Past's new interface

Papers Past's new interface

We’ve long loved this marvellous resource. Even in its early days, when it only had a few titles like the Grey River Argus and the Ashburton Guardian, it saved us so many hours of research. No more was your only option to trek to the local library and trawl through microfilm in the faint hope of spotting something relevant. With Papers Past, you might find what you were looking for in under five minutes from the comfort of your home or office! And if not, a Papers Past search would inevitably offer up leads to help narrow a microfilm search from a decade, to a year, or even a month.

As time went on, new titles were added bringing with them new possibilities. From being able to select a local newspaper when looking for information from a particular region, to being able to look at periods as recent as the 1930s and 1940s.

We admit we were a little worried when we heard the website might change. Fortunately, the good people at the National Library understand this and listened to what its users wanted.

The revamped Papers Past seems better than ever. Not only are yet more titles coming, but they’ve made it so much easier to search newspapers by region, to search across a range of publications including newspapers, magazines, letters and diaries (instead of having to visit a bunch of separate websites), and it’s all mobile friendly. Oh and each page now has a print button!

Thanks Papers Past team.

What’s new on Te Ara

It’s been six months since we established the Research & Publishing Group here at Manatū Taonga, Ministry for Culture and Heritage, and started taking a coordinated approach to maintaining all our websites. Te Ara is a very important part of the group’s work and we’ve been putting in place processes to ensure its ongoing development and maintenance.

Some of the areas of work over the last few months have included establishing a system for internal champions of each theme – they’ll be keeping an eye on content, helping respond to queries, evaluating and proposing updates and developing relationships with authors and experts. We’ve updated Peoples stories and the Workplace safety and accident compensation entry, reviewed the Shipping, Railways and Public Transport stories, and kept up with regularly changing subjects such as sports and awards. We’re also working through the final te reo translations of Māori content so we can publish these over the coming months, and continuing to upgrade image and multimedia content to replace Flash-based content with fully accessible and mobile-friendly content (e.g., videos and interactives).

Over the next few months we’ll turn our attention to content and technical updates, including reviewing and updating census and other statistics in the Social Connections theme and reviewing the Treaty settlements and Iwi entries. Updates are also under way for the Penguins and Shags stories following new discoveries about their taxonomies, and the Coins and banknotes entry to reflect new banknote designs. Very soon we’ll be testing and releasing a new mobile responsive design along with interface enhancements to improve story navigation, and developing a new approach to keywording.

This work is part of a wider programme that includes a big contribution to the First World War commemorations, with major work appearing in NZHistory’s First World War section, as well as new work on the Te Taiwhakaea Treaty Settlement Stories project. It’s keeping us busy and provides opportunities to update Te Ara in tandem with other websites. Our updates to information about flags, for example, includes a short update on Te Ara linked to a longer piece on NZHistory. More significantly, developing the Te Taiwhakaea Treaty Settlement Stories project gives us the opportunity to review all our existing Treaty and Iwi material and ensure optimum content for our readers.

How many New Zealanders served on Gallipoli?

Gallipoli armistice

Gallipoli armistice

In 2013, I wrote that the long-accepted figure for the number of New Zealand soldiers who fought at Gallipoli – 8,556 – had come about by historical accident. Noting that historians now doubted this figure, I expressed the hope that research prompted by the centenary of the First World War would shed more light on the matter. That research has since been undertaken, and we now know that twice the ‘traditional’ number of New Zealanders landed on Gallipoli. This new figure of about 17,000 lines up well with the fact that about 20,000 troops left New Zealand in time to have potentially been sent to the Dardanelles.

The recent research project overseen by New Zealand Defence Force and Ministry for Culture & Heritage historians investigated three sets of evidence. First, it is now clear that nearly 11,000 men of the Main Body and the first three reinforcement drafts had been thrown into the battle by the end of May 1915. Secondly, Matthew Buck’s research into personnel files – every individual First World War serviceman’s record is now available digitally on Archives New Zealand’s Archway website – shows that more than three-quarters of the 6th Reinforcements, the draft least likely to have reached Gallipoli, in fact did so in October/November 1915.

The clincher came when handwritten notebooks kept by the Deputy Assistant Adjutant General (DAAG) of the New Zealand and Australian Division for the intervening period, June to August 1915, were unearthed by John Crawford in Archives New Zealand. These showed that nearly two-thirds of the New Zealanders who landed on the peninsula in this period were new arrivals, while fewer than one-fifth were men returning from hospital.

The April/May and October/November evidence comes with a margin of error, but the DAAG data is robust. It is now clear that between 16,000 and 18,000 New Zealanders landed on Gallipoli during 1915. Twice as many New Zealand families as previously thought have a direct link to the Dardanelles. These findings give Gallipoli an even more secure place in our national mythology.

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For more information about the new research see New research dramatically increases the numbers of New Zealand soldiers at Gallipoli, or find out how to research your connection to Gallipoli with Researching New Zealand soldiers on NZHistory.

‘Take it easy – take the train’

Auckland commuters arrive at the Britomart Transport Centre during the morning rush hour

Auckland commuters arrive at the Britomart Transport Centre during the morning rush hour

Record growth in the number of commuters using public transport in Auckland highlights how quickly information and trends can change – a challenge for any encyclopedia. Te Ara’s entries on Public Transport and Railways aren’t that old; they were published in the Economy and the City theme in 2010, and acknowledged that public transport patronage had rallied since the 1990s and early 2000s. Over the last decade, though, that revival has become a revolution – especially in a city most assumed was as car-crazy as Los Angeles, and always would be.

In August 2015 Auckland Transport reported that the city’s rail journeys over the previous 12 months had reached 14 million – the highest total ever recorded and 21% up on the previous year. Since the early 1990s, when barely a million Aucklanders rode a run-down, neglected suburban rail system, growth has been spectacular: the 2014/15 total was more than double the 2007/08 figure of 6.8 million, which was itself more than twice the 3.2 million recorded in 2002/03. As this chart illustrates, the surge in Auckland commuter numbers means that more New Zealanders are taking the train today than at any time since the early 1960s.

While the most dramatic recent growth has been on the rails, more people are also travelling on Auckland’s much more extensive bus network, with 57 million journeys in the year to March 2015, an 8.5% increase over the previous year. Numbers using the Northern Express busway were up 17%. Even ferry services recorded a 5% increase, with a total of 5.4 million trips. Overall, Auckland’s public transport journeys to March 2015 totalled 78 million, an increase of 10% on the year before.

Rather than just being an exercise in updating statistics, significant changes like this invite us to reassess the way we think about our cities. As Te Ara’s Public Transport and Railways entries explain, all major New Zealand cities experienced a significant decline in public transport patronage during the second half of the 20th century, an era when the car was king. As a result, in the 1990s and early 2000s New Zealand, and Auckland especially, had one of the lowest rates of public transport use in the world. Most people still commute by car of course, and we shouldn’t overstate the rise of public transit. But the recent turnaround is historically significant, and is one of a number of trends that are reshaping New Zealand’s largest city.

Similarly, for decades we’ve thought of Wellington as New Zealand’s rail-commuter capital. Patronage there has also grown since the early 2000s, and with more than 12 million rail journeys in 2014/15 it’s still well ahead on a per capita basis. But in absolute terms Wellington’s commuter numbers are unlikely to top Auckland’s again. With 55% of all New Zealand’s public transport journeys happening there, we need to recognise Auckland as the country’s new commuter hub.

Like most revolutions, this one has a variety of causes. Public transport patronage jumped around 2008 as petrol prices rose, but has accelerated even as pump prices have fallen Traffic congestion, travel times and parking costs are all major influences; for some, concern over fossil fuels and climate change is a factor. New migrants may be more used to public transport and rail travel has also benefited from our growing dependence on smartphones, tablets and laptops, which allow commuters to work or play during their journey. Arguably the primary driver has been long-overdue investment in infrastructure and improvements to the quality and frequency of services, which have clearly unlocked significant latent demand for public transport.

The opening of the downtown Britomart Transport Centre in 2003 was a key first step, and over the last decade central government has invested heavily in upgrading and electrifying the network, duplicating tracks, building new stations, reopening the Onehunga branch line (closed since 1973) and purchasing new Spanish-built electric multiple units, the first of which entered service in April 2014. With main construction work on the 3.4-km underground Auckland City Rail Link due to start in 2018, further growth is expected.

Public transport is a fast moving environment, especially in New Zealand’s largest and most dynamic city. On current trends, 20 million rail journeys will be taken in Auckland in 2016. We may need to revisit these entries sooner rather than later.

2015’s popularity contest

It’s that time of year again when we can look back and ponder what was, so I’ve been taking a quick look at what’s been popular on our websites, especially on our two biggest sites, Te Ara and its sister site, NZHistory. It’s interesting to see where they overlap and where some of the differences are.

On Te Ara, we’ve seen a huge increase in views of our Auckland places entry, helped in large part by a lot of US visitors coming via googleusercontent.com, a Google CDN. It’s slightly mystifying but one message is clear: Google likes our content. Other popular content included our entry on Matariki, perhaps a positive sign that we’re starting to develop more local traditions and customs. And in typical fashion, interest in this list of Rugby World Cup winners peaked in October. Finally, in another sign of the power of Google, Dame Whina Cooper’s biography attracted a lot of visitors after she featured in the Google Doodle on her birthday in December.

Whina Cooper addresses a crowd during the 1975 Maori land march

Whina Cooper addresses a crowd during the 1975 Māori land march

Over on NZHistory, the perennially popular 100 Māori words every New Zealander should know was top of the list. And then the war stepped in with lots of visitors to our Gallipoli campaign and Anzac Day features. Also, as you might guess, there was a lot of interest in Flags of New Zealand (which we’ll need to update soon regardless of which way the referendum goes). I think we have to admit that from popular pages we can hear the bells of cultural identity, maybe even nationhood, ringing.

From a quick look at the search terms people are using (both on the websites and external search engines like Google) we can see some interesting themes emerging:

  • Anzac and Anzac Day
  • Auckland
  • Cave Creek
  • Dame Whina Cooper
  • Dawn raids
  • Disasters
  • First World War
  • Flags
  • Gallipoli and the campaign
  • Māori, Māori history and Māori weapons
  • Matariki
  • New Zealand history
  • New Zealand wars
  • Parihaka
  • Springbok Tour
  • The Treaty of Waitangi
  • Types of erosion, magma and soil erosion
  • Wahine and whanau

And because it’s the end of the year, here’s a word cloud. (These never go out of style, amiright?)

Popular search terms on Te Ara and NZHistory

Popular search terms on Te Ara and NZHistory

The high level of interest in the treaty bodes well for our forthcoming project, Te Taiwhakaea – Treaty settlement stories.

Finally, I mentioned the war earlier and it’s fair to say the First World War centenary programme brought a lot of traffic to all our sites this year, with major spikes on NZHistory, 28 Māori Battalion and WW100. I’ll leave you with a graph to ponder what happened around April this year.

The year's visitors

Monthly visits to all our websites