Newspaper Ad/Article Analysis

Assignment Purpose

These kinds of assignments show that you’re able to consult primary sources (old newspapers) and analyze them according to our readings and discussions. We’ll use the Chronicling America project from the Library of Congress.

Your Job

Go to the Chronicling America Advanced Search Page, and search for food related words in newspapers from New Mexico from between 1880 and 1920 (you can choose the range of years; a narrower range means more similar ads; a broader range means more diverse kinds of ads. Either are fine; choose what seems more interesting to you). You need to select New Mexico from the list on the left, and manually enter a date range.

There is no specific set of words phrases you need to search—that’s up to you. Choose topics or themes we’ve talked about in class, terms like food, canned, pure, nutrition, formula, diet, health, natural, scientific, and so on (please don’t limit yourself to these!). You can also search for specific brands or foods. I recommend using the “all of the words” text box on the search form, but you can try different search methods to see how they affect your results (different combinations of words may work better with certain search methods).

Browse through your search results by clicking on the page thumbnails; you’ll notice your search terms are highlighted in red. Be sure to scan the whole page for relevant ads and content, not just stuff that’s highlighted—you’ll find a lot of interesting material that you didn’t directly search for!

Play around with searching for different sets of terms and how the results compare to each other.

Scan through at least several dozen different articles or ads (they’re small!)—the more you look at, the easier it will be to write your essay—until you notice some kind of pattern or general feature that seems worth commenting on. Given your search terms (whatever they are), pretend you are going to discuss your findings with, say, a classroom full of students who have also looked at similar ads from similar newspapers. That’s the audience you should have in mind while writing.

Short Essays

Write a ~350-word essay about what you found and how they relate to course readings and discussions. You should not simply describe a random collection of ads or articles and what they say; comment on a set of sources that tells you something about how people were marketing or discussing food at the time.

Questions to Address

Keep in mind that maybe not all of these will be relevant to your ads/articles):

Tips for success

Revisions are hard! But they are the only way to make your writing shine.


It is always worthwhile to talk about these things in class; don’t hesitate to ask. Email is OK, too, especially for quick questions.