Discovering History Through Digital Newspaper Collections

Posted on March 2, 2016

By Seth Cayley

Can cocaine really cure sea-sickness? Something tells me that very little peer-reviewed research has been done on the subject in recent years. But that didn’t stop the Victorians. From around 1870-1915 a large number of narcotics, including heroin, were widely and legally available, and often packaged as medicines. Historians have dubbed this period before the first international drug control treaties as “The Great Binge”.

I first came across The Great Binge when browsing through bound volumes of the Illustrated London News for the first time at university. While I was supposed to be looking for news items about pre-First World War Europe, my eyes kept on being drawn to the adverts. Leafing through these, I learnt that: smoking Joy’s cigarettes could help with bronchitis; a certain brand of men’s underwear does not shrink; and that an electric hairbrush could cure my “nervous headache” (although I was pretty certain my headache that day had other causes common to students).

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