Investigating the Calendar of the Week

The “Egyptian Gazette” was a newspaper printed in Alexandria, Egypt during 1905. This newspaper served many purposes. It kept its citizens up to date on current events in business and their personal lives both in Alexandria and worldwide. For my digital micro-history project, I decided that the best way to understand the daily lives of the people living in Alexandria at the time is to investigate a section in the “Egyptian Gazette” titled “CALENDAR OF THE WEEK”. This section is included in every issue, typically on pages three or four. It lists the important events happening in Alexandria and its surrounding areas. This serves as a tool to keep its citizens up-to-date with what is happening in the town and advises them to go and participate in these events. By taking a further look into this section, we can see the types of things or event that the people of Alexandria enjoyed doing and which ones seemed to be very important to them.

In order to investigate the “CALENDAR OF THE WEEK” section in the “Egyptian Gazette”, you will have to gather research, which is a bit more challenging than expected. One of the biggest challenges you are faced with while completing a digital micro-history project is gathering enough research or data from your classmates. This means you are heavily dependent upon what another classmate has decided, or not decided to do. Many people faced issues when it came to converting digital images of the Egyptian Gazette to editable text. This resulted in many missing or unreadable pages over all. It order to convert a digital image of a page in the newspaper, you must run it through an OCR program. From personal experience, this is easy if you are working from a Windows computer. However, if you decide to work off a Mac computer, you will run into a lot more problems than what you had anticipated. OCR programs do not seem to get a long well with Mac computers. I have tried a couple different ones and both produce results that are so filled with errors that you are much better off retyping the entire page yourself. This is where the work becomes much more time consuming. While this may produce text with a significantly low amount of errors, you are less likely to fully complete all of the necessary pages of an issue. Most of my classmates encountered this problem because they use Mac computers, which resulted in a small amount of research for me to work with.

We also run into research inconsistences due to the fact that we were given loose guidelines. If you can successfully convert your digital image to editable text, then you can move on to converting your text to XLM. Because the guidelines for converting the plain text form of the newspaper to XML were not extremely specific and allowed some freedom, XML documents were created differently. Each person was allowed to organize his or her documents in a way that seemed to fit and make sense. This means that you have to run multiple quarry searches with slight differences between each in order to return the most results. Ideally, classmates would follow some sort of general guideline, but because that was not fully expected, it did not happen. This again, makes the work more time consuming and increases the chance of returning fewer results.

Another problem you can face when trying to complete a digital micro-history assignment is running a quarry. Running quarries is how you obtain your research from other classmates. If you are completely unfamiliar if XML or the program Oxygen, or you are the complete opposite of tech-savvy, then this step may be a but challenging if you are not sure what to type. In order to investigate the “CALENDAR IF THE WEEK” sections during the year 1905, I ran the following query: //head[contains(.,'Calendar of the Week')]//following-sibling::row[]/cell[]/string(). As mentioned above, students were not required to follow any specific guideline when creating an XML document, so I changed “Calendar of the Week” a few different times to account for everyone’s different style of XML. I searched “Calendar of the Week”, “CALENDAR OF THE WEEK”, and “calendar of the week” in order to return as many results as possible.

Out of a total of fifty-two weeks in a year, my quarry searches returned a total of sixteen different “CALENDAR OF THE WEEK” sections, each with completely different entries. Although this section of the newspaper does not change frequently, it is expected that there be at least one for each week. This low number of returned results can be attributed to classmates not being able to create a searchable XML document. It is interesting to note that all of the returned searches appear in the last half of the year, from September 6, 1905 to December 26, 1905. It is possible that the “CALENDAR OF THE WEEK” section was a new section introduced half way through 1905. Maybe as sort of a trial run to see how well their audience enjoyed it.

The “CALENDAR OF THE WEEK” sections in all returned results included events that were natural occurrences or advice that the citizens should be taking rather than events they should attend. A few of the entries included “The Sun in Libra. Autumn commences.” (September 23, 1905), “Beginning of mists and fogs. Dress more warmly.” (October 25, 1905), “Sowing of poppies, cumin, and coriander.” (November 11, 1905), and “Dry food should be used.” (December 26, 1905). It seems that the people of Alexandria may have looked to this column in the “Egyptian Gazette” for advice on what they should be doing that week and actions that should be taken. Many of the events are related to agriculture or personal care, so these may have been the things most important to the people at this time.

While this is an interesting an important section to study as a digital micro-history project, it can use some refining. For example, one may want to look further into each individual line within a section. There may be some importance as to where things appeared in the calendar.

Melizza Black
Melizza Black

The author, a student at Florida State University, was enrolled in the digital microhistory lab in fall 2016.