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Sydney student newspaper preserved for the ages

3 November 2016
Honi Soit Digital Archive launched

The University of Sydney Honi Soit Digital Archive is now live, providing easy online access to issues of the student newspaper from 1929 to 1990. 

An image from the Honi Soit digital archive

The pages of colourful student rag Honi Soit will be preserved for future generations, thanks to a new digital archive project currently underway at the University of Sydney Library.

Eighty-seven years after it first hit the stands, more than 18,000 pages from 1530 issues in 61 volumes have been individually digitised.

Some of Australia’s finest journalists and politicians cut their teeth on Honi Soit, and notable alumni have gone on to launch remarkable public careers.

Clive James, Laurie Oakes, and the late Bob Ellis are among the former editors who steered the publication through controversy and acclaim, with contributions from Robert Hughes, Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott, Les Murray, and Germaine Greer filling the pages.

The articles in Honi Soit provide a snapshot of Australia’s social and political history, says Sten Christensen, University of Sydney Library Associate Director, Publishing and Data, and a driving force behind the Honi Soit Digital Archive project. 

Honi Soit is a rich source of information and a well-loved publication still used for research,” he said.

“It offers us unique insights, as so many of the issues in broader society were played out in its pages before they became part of the mainstream news agenda.

“It’s fascinating to see how the newspaper changes over time. The early editions are very conservative and text heavy. By the mid-50s it starts to get interesting, with the likes of Clive James and Robert Hughes becoming involved.

“By the 1960s, politics had become impossible to ignore. The moratorium to end the Vietnam War dominated, as did feminism in the 70s, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land rights movement in the 80s, and the culture wars in the 90s.

“There’s so much content in this archive that we’re not yet across all the gold – it’s not just writing but also artwork, photography, poetry, opinion and so much more.”

Tonight, journalist and former Honi Soit editor (1966) David Salter will launch the archive on campus at the Holme Building. He’ll be joined by a cohort of Honi contributors past and present.

Honi has been a sandpit for some of the best serious journalists in this town.
David Salter, former Honi Soit editor

“It provided the monkey bars on which those of us silly enough to write for a living could flex our muscles and learn the trade," he said. 

“Free online access to Honi will now be a very useful resource for those curious about what has exercised the minds and hearts of the University over the past 60 years.”

The process of digitising such a large collection was complicated and time consuming. Preliminary discussion and an audit of available editions began in 2011. In February 2016, specialist equipment came onsite and technicians were employed to manually scan the pages. This was followed by quality checks and the development of the platform to showcase the archive online.

“We had two major aims for the project: preservation and accessibility,” Mr Christensen explains.

“While there had been an earlier attempt to microfilm certain editions, it was all in black and white and the quality often wasn’t very good. We’ve been able to produce high-resolution scans, taking the pressure off our fragile print copies to ensure they’re archived for the ages.

“We also wanted to provide widespread and easy access to the scans, which are now available as online PDFs for anyone to view and read.”

The final stage of the project will see the development of a search capability across the entire archive, so content can be more easily navigated using search terms.”

Mr Christensen thanked the University’s Students’ Representative Council (SRC), the publishers of Honi Soit: “The Library is grateful to the SRC president and its general secretariat for supporting the online availability of the digital archive.” 

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