Canaries in the Coal Mine

Photo of Canary

│By Amelie Bonney, Gale Ambassador at the University of Oxford│

Most of us see bright-feathered, warbling canaries as pets, yet these tiny birds were not always just household companions. In the nineteenth century they were used as exceptional risk predictors in mines. This was because they were particularly sensitive to carbon monoxide, a substance which led to numerous mining accidents in the aftermath of industrialisation. Thus, oddly, an increasing reliance on fossil fuels induced a new rapport with nature and animals. The canary’s role in mines became so engrained in the English language that “a canary in the coalmine” is now a well-known phrase, used to refer to early indicators of potential hazards. Gale’s Historical Newspapers allow us to better understand how the canary came to be emblematic of shifting attitudes towards risk during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the English-speaking world.

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Teaching Primary Source Research Skills – Discovering New Points of View about European and Colonised Women Using Gale’s New Archive “Voice and Vision”

Women in Seminar Room

In this blog post, PhD student Meg Ison explains what she teaches and how she introduces students to primary source research skills at the University of Portsmouth. She also explores the new module of Women’s Studies Archive, Voice and Vision, and the fascinating insight it can give students into women’s involvement and influence in colonialism. 

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The Wrath of Mountains: Explaining Volcanic Eruptions from the Late Eighteenth Century to the Modern Day

“The Straits of Sunda: Terrible Volcanic Eruption.” Illustrated London News, 8 Sept. 1883, p. 229. The Illustrated London News Historical Archive, 1842-2003

By Amelie Bonney, Gale Ambassador at the University of Oxford

On December 9, 2019, the deadly volcanic eruption of Mount Whakaari in New Zealand sparked new discussions over risk assessment in volcanic regions. While sudden volcanic eruptions make it difficult for scientists to assess risks in such areas, the belief that eruptions can be predicted thanks to science also leads to increasingly hazardous activities such as tourism in dangerous volcanic regions. How and why have humans become so intrepid when it comes to volcanoes?

The Gale Primary Sources archives provide not only newspaper articles but also a range of valuable monographs and visual sources, ranging from drawings to photographs, which allow us to investigate how our understanding and perception of volcanic eruptions has changed over the last few centuries. The sources demonstrate that the scientific community’s investigations led to the emergence of new understandings of dangerous volcanic eruptions from the late eighteenth century onwards. Paradoxically, scientific explanations of volcanic eruptions created a heightened sense of danger but also led to an increase in risk-taking behaviour.

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Are We Obsessed with Serial Killers?

Newspaper advert for a book: What makes a serial killer?

│By Chloe Villalon, Gale Ambassador at the National University of Ireland Galway│

In the last decade, television series such as Dexter, Mindhunter and Bates Motel have encountered overwhelming success. Based on true events or completely fictional, the narratives are told from the investigators’ or killer’s perspective. The public is not only interested in the gory, bloody aspect of serial killing cases but the science behind understanding and catching serial killers. Many such programmes try to answer the key question: Why do serial killers kill? Using Gale Primary Sources and its many research tools, I will use this blog post to explore the topic of serial killers, considering questions such as: where does the term “serial killer” come from and what does it mean? And what is the role of the media in serial killing cases?

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Introducing ‘Women’s Studies Archive: Voice and Vision’

"The Latest Paris Fashions." Myra's Journal, 1 Apr. 1889. Women's Studies Archive

│By Rachel Holt, Gale Primary Sources Acquisitions Editor

​ Rachel Holt is an Acquisitions Editor at Gale, working on the Gale Primary Sources portfolio. Managing the Women’s Studies Archive series, Rachel works closely with source libraries and other archival institutions around the world and tracks academic trends in Women’s and Gender Studies to ascertain which primary sources are required. In this blog post she answers the following questions about the new module, Voice and Vision:


  • What is in this new archive?

  • Why did Gale digitise these particular collections?

  • Why have we called the new instalment Voice and Vision?

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    Paradise Found: Exploring Historical Maps and Travel Writing

    Harris, T. "A South Prospect of the Flourishing City of New York in the Province of New York in America 1746

    │By Matthew Trenholm, Gale Ambassador at the University of Exeter│

    Of all the Gale archives I’ve explored so far, my favourite is Maps and Travel Literature. Part of Nineteenth Century Collections Online, it has already been a great help to my undergraduate History dissertation on English ports. Maps have been an essential part of human development and Maps and Travel Literature allows you to examine maps from all over the world, produced for different reasons by different people and organisations. There is also a huge range of travel writing to sink your teeth into, giving insight into the human experience behind the maps and other geographical documents.

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    “Even the Sacramental Cup Was Not Exempt from Adulteration” – The Hazards of Drinking an Old Bottle of Claret

    │By Amelie Bonney, Gale Ambassador at the University of Oxford│

    Have you recently enjoyed a special, vintage bottle of wine to celebrate the New Year with your family or friends? You might be surprised to learn that such celebrations might have been quite dangerous during the nineteenth century. Expecting the crimson-coloured beverage to enrapture their senses and coat their tongue in luscious flavours of dried blackberry, leather and tobacco, wine aficionados were often far from suspecting that this elixir could easily turn out to be a cheap, dyed, falsified drink, or worse – deadly poison. In an age where strict regulations exist to control food and beverage adulteration, such hazardous dyes are no longer used, but delving into Gale’s Historic Newspapers allows us to better understand how such dangerous adulteration was allowed to occur during the nineteenth century.

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    “What we may expect”: The Corrupting Power of Power

    A Bloater (fish) from Yarmouth, drawing. "The Utilisation of Bribery." Punch, October 13, 1866, 150. Punch Historical Archive, 1841-1992

    │By Ellen Grace Lesser, Gale Ambassador at the University of Exeter│

    We have all heard the maxim, “Power corrupts”. This has been altered in recent years, and now you may hear an alternative: “Power brings out people’s true colours”. It is not that power necessarily makes anyone “bad”, but that if a person is already “bad”, this is highlighted when they gain power. Yet is it the power itself that does this to people, or is it the desire for power? In this post, I will investigate the coverage of political bribery scandals from sources in The Sunday Times Digital Archive and The Times Digital Archive to see where the corrupting power of power truly lies.

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    Humour, playfulness and a light-hearted attitude – How primary sources have shown me a different side to the women’s suffrage movement

    │by Pollie Walker, Gale Ambassador at the University of Liverpool │

    At the University of Liverpool, students are lucky enough to have a vast wealth of primary sources easily accessible to us – and that shouldn’t go unnoticed! Coming to Gale Primary Sources via the Liverpool University library page, I was able to access some excellent sources about the women’s suffrage movement in Iowa from 1894 through to 1937.

    Read moreHumour, playfulness and a light-hearted attitude – How primary sources have shown me a different side to the women’s suffrage movement