eesti teaduste
akadeemia kirjastus
SINCE 1997
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Acta Historica Tallinnensia
ISSN 1736-7476 (Electronic)
ISSN 1406-2925 (Print)
Impact Factor (2022): 0.3
Research article
Positioning Riga in the 19th Century News Network: Tracing International News Flows in the Rigasche Zeitung Newspaper, 1802–1888; pp. 3–34

Krister Kruusmaa, Kaarel Vanamölder

This paper explores the possibilities of researching the historical circulation of news using place-date headings, the place of origin and date that was printed with a news paragraph. We demonstrate the possibilities of these headings using a 19th century German-language newspaper from Riga. We propose using digital methods to extract and use them to calculate the speed at which news travelled from different locations, as well as to map the geographical coverage of the newspaper. We also combine our results and perform a case study on the Crimean War. The results of our analysis show that place-date headings can be used effectively to study historical information flows, including cross-lingual ones, with less data and effort than required by other methods.


1. For a state of the art of research on digitised newspapers, see Digitised Newspapers – A New Eldorado for Historians? Reflections on Tools, Methods and Epistemology. Ed. by E. Bunout, M. Ehrmann, F. Clavert. De Gruyter, Oldenbourg, 2023, especially the introduction by the editors

2. Viral Texts, which focused on 19th century US newspapers (; Oceanic Exchanges,: which studied transnational information flows between 1850 and 1914 (; Computational History and the Transformation of Public Discourse in Finland, 1640–1910 (; Information Flows across the Baltic Sea: Swedish-language press as a cultural mediator, 1771–1918 ( (accessed 03/01/2023).

3. M. Franke, M. John, M. Knabben, J. Keck, T. Blascheck, S. Koch. LilyPads: Exploring the Spatiotemporal Dissemination of Historical Newspaper Articles. – Proceedings of the 15th International Joint Conference on Computer Vision, Imaging and Computer Graphics Theory and Applications (presented at the 11th International Conference on Information Visualization Theory and Applications. SCITEPRESS – Science and Technology Publications, Valletta, Malta, 2020, 17–28.

4. J. Keck, M. Oiva, P. Fyfe. Lajos Kossuth and the Transnational News: A Computational and Multilingual Approach to Digitized Newspaper Collections. – Media History, 2022, 1–18, available online: (accessed 03/01/2023); 
R. Castellanos, E. Saisó, L. Domínguez. “Si los telegramas no mienten”. Origen y circulación de las noticias de la explosión del Maine en la prensa mexicana, febrero 1898. – Revista de Historia de América, 2020, 159, 255–287;
M. Oiva, A. Nivala, H. Salmi, O. Latva, M. Jalava, J. Keck, L. Martínez Domínguez, J. Parker. Spreading News in 1904. – Media History, 2020, 26, 4, 391–407.

5. H. Salmi, P. Paju, H. Rantala, A. Nivala, A. Vesanto, F. Ginter. The Reuse of Texts in Finnish Newspapers and Journals, 1771–1920: A Digital Humanities Perspective. – Historical Methods: A Journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History, 2021, 54, 1, 14–28.

6. (accessed 03/01/2023).

7. For a more detailed discussion, see P. Paju, H. Rantala, H. Salmi. Towards an Ontology and Epistemology of Text Reuse. – Digitised Newspapers, 253–273.

8. See X. Shaobin, D. Smith, A. Mullen, R. Cordell. Detecting and Evaluating Local Text Reuse in Social Networks. – Proceedings of the Joint Workshop on Social Dynamics and Personal Attributes in Social Media. Association for Computational Linguistics, Baltimore, Maryland, 2014, 50–57, (accessed 03/01/2023).

9. Keck et al. Lajos Kossuth and the Transnational News, 3; Salmi et al. The Reuse of Texts in Finnish Newspapers, 26.

10. J. Verheul, H. Salmi, M. Riedl, A. Nivala, L. Viola, J. Keck, E. Bell. Using Word Vector Models to Trace Conceptual Change Over Time and Space in Historical Newspapers, 1840–1914. – Digital Humanities Quarterly, 2022, 16, 2,
A. Lerma Mayer, X. Gutierrez-Vasques, E. Saiso, H. Salmi. Underlying Sentiments in 1867: A Study of News Flows on the Execution of Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico in Digitized Newspaper Corpora. – Digital Humanities Quarterly, 2022, 16, 4, (accessed 03/01/2023).

11. R. Castellanos et al. “Si los telegramas no mienten”, 267–268.

12. M. Oiva et al. Spreading News in 1904.

13. Although both Smith et al. and Salmi et al. stress the importance of communication networks such as telegraph lines and railways in the spread of information, their methods are centred on textual overlap. See D. A. Smith, R. Cordell, E. M. Dillon. Infectious texts: Modeling text reuse in nineteenth-century newspapers. – 2013 IEEE International Conference on Big Data, Silicon Valley, CA, USA, 2013, 86–94, (accessed 03/01/2023); 
Salmi et al. The Reuse of Texts in Finnish Newspapers, 21–22.

14. M. Stephens. A History of News. Penguin Books, New York, 1989, 153.

15. J. Weber. Straßburg 1605: Die Geburt der Zeitung. – Jahrbuch für Kommunikationsgeschichte, 2005, 7, 3–27.

16. For a more thorough analysis of the role of the paragraph as carrier of information, see W. Slauter. The Paragraph as Information Technology: How News Traveled in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World. – Annales HSS (English edn), 2012, 67, 2, 253–278. Brendan Dooley has proposed “period” as a more suitable term for this unit: B. Dooley. International News Flows in the Seventeenth Century: Problems and Prospects. – News Networks in Early Modern Europe. Ed. by J. Raymond, N. Moxham. Brill, Leiden, Boston, 158–177.

17. Y. C. Ryan. “More Difficult From Dublin Than From Dieppe”: Ireland and Britain in a European Network of Communication. – Media History, 2018, 24, 3–4, 458–476.

18. K. Vanamölder. Millist ajalehte loeti Rootsi aja lõpus Riias? Hamburgi/Altona ajalehtede mõjust Rigische Novelleni sisule. – Acta Historica Tallinnensia, 2021, 27, 2, 298–330.

19. Riga. Portrait einer Vielvölkerstadt am Rande des Zarenreiches 1857–1914. Hrsg. von E. Oberländer, K. Wohlfahrt. F. Schöningh, Paderborn, 2004.

20. Balti kirjakultuuri ajalugu I. Keskused ja kandjad. Koost. L. Lukas. Tartu Ülikooli Kirjastus, Tartu, 2020, 151–160.

21. K. Vanamölder. Kuidas täita pool sajandit kestvat pausi? Ajakirjandus Riias 17. ja 18. sajandil kommunikatsiooniajaloo vaatenurgast. – Muutused, ümberkorraldused, uuendused: Varauusaja arengujooned Eesti- ja Liivimaal, 1520–1800. Koost. M. Seppel, M. Maasing. Tallinna Ülikooli Kirjastus, Tallinn (forthcoming).

22. (accessed 03/01/2023).

23. (accessed 03/01/2023).

24. In historiography, the year 1915 is also commonly used as the final closure of the Rigasche Zeitung, for example M. Lux. Das Riga der Deutschen. – Riga. Portrait einer Vielvölkerstadt am Rande des Zarenreiches, 75–114, here 110–112; Eestis ilmunud saksa-, vene- ja muukeelne perioodika 1675–1940. – Eesti retrospektiivne rahvusbibliograafia, V. Koost. E. Annus. Eesti Teaduste Akadeemia raamatukogu, Tallinn, 1993, 220. At the same time, the collection of the Rigasche Zeitung in the National Library of Latvia attests to the publication of the paper up to 1919, which is also used by R. Cerūzis. Rigasche Zeitung. – Nacionālā enciklopēdija. Available online: (accessed 03/01/2023).

25. O. Grossberg. Die Presse Lettlands. Baltischer Verlag, Riga, 1927, 11; R. Cerūzis. Rigasche Zeitung.

26. J. Eckardt. Riga. Beiträge zur Geschichte des deutsch-baltischen Zeitungswesens. J. Waldkirch, Ludwigshafen am Rhein, 1929; R. Seeberg-Elverfeldt. Dreihundert Jahre deutschbaltische Presse. – Zeitschrift für Ostforschung, 1977, 22, 651–670; M. Lux. Das Riga der Deutschen, 111–112. In Oskar Grossberg’s (1862–1941) survey of German journalism in interwar Latvia, for example, the RZ plays a central role among other German publications, whether they were competitors or not. See O. Grossberg. Die Presse Lettlands, 16–36.

27. A. Šemeta. Saksakeelne perioodika Liivi- ja Kuramaal enne 1800. aastat. Uutmoodi ja paremini! Ühiskondlikest muutustest 18. sajandil ja 19. sajandi algul. – Rahvusarhiivi toimetised (Acta et commentationes archive nationales Estoniae) 2018, 2, 33, 159–190; Balti kirjakultuuri ajalugu I, 160–163; K. Vanamölder. Kuidas täita pool sajandit kestvat pausi?

28. A. Šemeta. Saksakeelne perioodika Liivi- ja Kuramaal enne 1800. aastat.

29. W. Behringer. Im Zeichen des Merkur. Reichspost und Kommunikationsrevolution in der Frühen Neuzeit. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, 2003; A. Pettegree, The Invention of News: How the World Came to Know About Itself. Yale University Press, New Haven, 2014; News Networks in Early Modern Europe. Ed. by J. Raymond, N. Moxham. Brill, Leiden, Boston 2016; H. Droste. Das Geschäft mit Nachrichten. Ein barocker Markt für soziale Ressourcen. Edition lumière, Bremen, 2018, 99–102. 

30. Rigische Montags (Donnerstags) Ordinari Post Zeitung (1680–1681) and Rigische Novellen (1681–1710).

31. M. Jensen. Der Nachrichtenmarkt in der Industriellen Revolution. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, 2022.

32. J. Wilke. Die Zeitung. – Vom Almanach bis Zeitung. Ein handbuch der Medien in Deutschland 1700–1800. Hrsg. von E. Fischer, W Haefs, M. Yor-Gothart. C. H. Beck, München, 1999, 388–402.

33. T. Reimo. Tsensuurist Eestis XVIII sajandil. – Keel ja kirjandus, 1997, 9, 605; Министерство внутренних дел: исторический очерк. Приложение 2, Почта и телеграф в XIX столетии. Министерство внутренних дел, Санкт-Петербург, 1901, 117–121. In 1796, a year before the name change, a censorship commission was set up in Riga by Emperor Paul I to control foreign and domestic printing. The RPZ had already been subject to censorship from the summer of 1789 (RPZ, 27.07.1789/no. 60), as it was henceforth subsequently indicated on the headline. It has been suggested that the word “political” was removed from the name of the paper to emphasise its neutrality. See D. Jatsenko. Tsensuur ja tsensorid Liivimaa kubermangus aastatel 1894–1917. Master’s thesis. Supervised by K. Brüggemann. Tallinn University, Tallinn, 2022, 23; R. Cerūzis. Rigasche Zeitung.

34. H. Böning. Geschichte der Hamburger und Altonaer Presse. Von den Anfängen bis zum Ende des Alten Reichs. Bd. 2: Periodische Presse und der Weg zur Aufklärung. Edition lumière, Bremen, 2020, 30–35.

35.  R. Cerūzis. Rigasche Zeitung.

36. M. Lux. Das Riga der Deutschen, 111.

37. O. Grossberg. Die Presse Lettlands, 34–35.

38. R. Cerūzis. Rigasche Zeitung.

39. (accessed 03/01/2023).

40. (accessed 03/01/2023).

41. Although the RZ was published earlier as well, only the issues from 1802 to 1888 have been digitised by the Latvian National Library. The issues published in the early 20th century after the reopening of the newspaper are available as well but are left out of this study as the break is too long and the context afterwards too different.

42. See, for example, E. Bunout, M. Ehrmann, F. Clavert. Digitised Newspapers – A New Eldorado for Historians?, 3–4.

43. We identified over 300 such false positives. For the most part, they are words that can appear in the exact same form as the toponyms and are accompanied by a date. Examples include weekdays (for example Dienstag, den 9. November), organisations (Aus dem Rathhaus vom 27. Februar), documents (Protokoll vom 29. März), but also currencies, weights and more.

44.  Sometimes, OCR errors can lead to impossible dates like den 71. Mai (instead of 11) or 80. Jan (instead of 30), all of which were discarded.

45. ‘Correct’ is a relative term here, as many of the cities in our dataset have different official names today. Both for technical reasons and in order to stay close to the sources, we opted for the names by which the cities were known in German in the 19th century. Moscow thus becomes Moskau, Naples is Neapel, Tallinn is Reval, etc. Hereafter, we will use these forms in graphs, but modern English forms in the text for the sake of readability.

46. The complete list of surface form replacements can be found in

47. Specifically, we used the dataset of all cities in the world that currently have at least 1,000 inhabitants, which can be found at (accessed 03/01/2023).

48. Such methods have been applied for example to the representation of Chinese cities in modern media: W. B. Loo. The Hierarchy of Cities in Internet News Media and Internet Search: Some Insights from China. – Cities, 2019, 84, 121–133. The authors would like to extend their thanks to Mikhail Tamm for a fruitful discussion on this subject.

49. About postal directions and the history of the post in Riga, see А. Вигилев. История отечественной почты. Радио и связь, Москва, 1990; P. Pētersone. Riga als ein Knotenpunkt im schwedischen Post- und Verkehrssystem um die Ostsee im 17. Jahrhundert. – Der Westfälische Frieden von 1648. Wende in der Geschichte des Ostseeraums für Prof. Dr. H. C. Herbert Ewe zum 80. Geburtstag. Hrsg. von H. Wernicke, H.-J. Hacker. Verlag Dr. Kovač, Hamburg, 2001, 401–415. A good overview is also provided by the annual calendars with postal information, for example: Livländischer Kalender auf das Jahr… 1802–1890, see Appendix B.

50. Die Post aus Deutschland über Memel kommt an im Sommer Dienstags und Sonnabends, in der Nacht, im Herbst und Frühjahr erst Mittwochs und Sonntags, auch nach Beschaffenheit der Wege und Ströme, wohl noch später, bringet Briefe mit von allen Orten aus Deutschland, Holland, England, Frankreich, Schweden, Dännemark etc. Livländischer Kalender auf das Jahr 1804. Riga, Gedruckt und zu haben bey J.C.D.Müller, priviligirtem Krons- und Stadtbuchdrucker, [1803].

51. Zugleich mit dieser Post kommt auch die Post aus Kurland und Litthauen zweymal in der Woche an, bringt Briefe mit von Warschau, Krakau, Wilna, Grodno, aus oesterreich und Italien. Livländischer Kalender auf das Jahr 1804. 

52. For example, in 1788 and earlier, the direction of Dünaburg is not yet marked. Liefländischer Kalender auf das Jahr 1799. Riga, gedruckt und zu haben bey Georg Friedrich Keil, priviligirter Buchdrucker [1788]. Die Post aus Moskau, über Smolensk, Polozk und Dünaburg Livländischer Kalender auf das Jahr 1804.

53. J. Krauklis. Komunikāciju leksikons. Jumava, Riga, 2004, 25.

54. In October 1843, the RZ announced that due to “the arrival of foreign post, henceforth five days a week, the paper will be published daily in order not to conceal political news from readers for too long”. RZ 30.10.1843.

55. Usually, the calendar system used in a heading can be determined by 1) comparing it to the publication date of the issue and 2) comparing the different dates in the heading to each other (when one is in parentheses, for example). In some cases, however, it is not possible to decide based only on these rules. For example a heading “Paris, January 22” published on January 24 could be in both Julian and Georgian. Further complications arise from the fact that a message from Paris could have easily reached Riga within 2 days in the 1870s, but not in the 1830s. To completely avoid miscalculations caused by calendar errors, we tied each of the 351 verified places to their respective calendar systems to make the correct distinction in cases like this.

56. In this case, it is reasonable to expect that we are dealing with information that has become relevant at a later time and cannot be strictly considered news. In this sense, we are only focusing on short-term propagation as described by Salmi et al. in The Reuse of Texts in Finnish Newspapers. Basically, we are assuming that texts with a delay under a hundred days were printed immediately as they became known or available in Riga.

57. To calculate the average delay for a given location, we used a smoothing algorithm to remove outliers.

58. Of course, the whole duration is not spent ‘on the road’, the described delay also includes the time it takes for an event to be broadcast as news from a given location and the time to be printed after reaching Riga, for example. While the former is indeterminable, we can have a guess at the latter. Until 1828, the printing delay could have been up to 4 days in some cases, because the newspaper was only published on Wednesdays and Saturdays (in a case where the message arrived right after the publication of Saturday’s issue, for example). From 1843, the maximum printing delay was two days but probably below one on average, as by then the newspaper was published six times per week. For nearer locations, however, this printing delay of 1–2 days can still make up a noticeable part of the total news delay and must thus be kept in mind.

59. Marek Jensen also centres his analysis around the term ‘industrial’. See M. Jensen. Der Nachrichtenmarkt in der Industriellen Revolution.

60. Methodological note: for transforming the map, the average movement speed for all locations for the given timeframe was first calculated. The average times for each location were then multiplied by this global average speed, resulting in “new distances” between Riga and each point. The map and the grid were transformed with the DistanceCartogram plugin for QGIS. Simply put, the locations from which news arrive faster than the global average speed are moved closer to Riga while locations from which news arrive slower are pushed away. The original map projection is shown under the transformation in grey. The authors thank Emilien Arnaud for helpful tips regarding the calculations.

61. These numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt as they are calculated using direct distances rather the actual distances by road, but they are nevertheless indicative about the general quality and speed of the (postal) connection

62. The project was carried out by the Prussian engineer Werner von Siemens (1816–1892) at a total cost of 14,558 silver rubles. It was the first and the longest civil telegraph connection in the Russian Empire and was intended to provide Riga merchants with fast and continuous information about activities in the harbor: arriving and departing ships, weather and ice conditions, etc. Der Rigasche Börsen-Comité in den Jahren 1816 bis 1866. Druck der Livländischen Gouvernements-Typographie, Riga, 1866, 47–48; G. Hernmarck. Erinnerungen aus dem öffentlichen Leben eines rigaschen Kaufmanns. Guttentag, Berlin, 1899, 10.

63. G. Hernmarck. Erinnerungen, 10.

64. J. Krauklis. Komunikāciju leksikons, 61–64.

65. Ibid., 62.

66. Rigasche Stadtblätter, 23/03/1861/no. 12.

67. Die “Rigasche Zeitung” soll vorzugsweise ein politisches Blatt sein, was man um so mehr beanspruchen kann als sie das einzige derartige Blatt in unserer Stadt, einer Stadt von circa 80,000 Seelen ist, und doch wird, unserer Ansicht nach, für die Politik in gewisser Beziehung gegenüber den diversen Leitartikeln und Localnotizen nicht Entsprechendes genug gethan. Eine der Hauptanforderungen an ein politisches Blatt – will es nämlich das Interesse des sich mit Politik beschäftigenden Publikums erhalten – ist jedenfalls eine möglichst schnelle Mittheilung der neuesten NachrichtenRigasche Stadtblätter, 23/03/1861/no. 12.

68. Durch Hülfe des Telegraphen leisten die auswärtigen Zeitungen – und selbst die St. Petersburger – in dieser Beziehung gegenwärtig Außerordentliches. Was sich heute Morgen in London ereignet, weiß man am Nachmittag bereits in Hamburg und spätestens morgen früh schon in Berlin und St. Petersburg; – wir dagegen hier in Riga, das doch in der Mitte zwischen den beiden letztgenannten Orten liegt, erfahren es in der Regel erst den dritten oder vierten TagRigasche Stadtblätter, 23/03/1861/no. 12.

69. Freilich gestattet der Umstand, daß nach den Provinzialstädten Rußlands keinerlei politische Nachrichten aus dem Auslande telegraphisch gemeldet werden dürfen, unserer hiesigen Zeitung nicht eine directe telegraphische Verbindung mit dem Auslande; dennoch möchte auch bei uns eine mehr beschleunigte Mittheilung der neuesten Nachrichten zu ermöglichen sein, wenn die Redaction der “Rigaschen Zeitung” dahin Veranstaltung treffen wollte, daß ihr das Neueste und Wichtigste aus den Tagesereignissen des Auslandes von St. Petersburg per Drath zugängig gemacht würde. Rigasche Stadtblätter, 23/03/1861/no. 12.

70. O. Grossberg, Die Presse Lettlands, 22.

71. Ibid.

72. Der Rigasche Börsen-Comité in den Jahren 1866–1872. Druck der Livländischen Gouvernements-Typographie, Riga, 1873, 133.

73. RZ, 02.01.1869/no. 1.

74. Livländischer Kalender auf das Jahr nach Christi Geburt 1869. Müllersche Buchdruckerei, Riga, [1868], 24.

75. R. Cvetovski. Modernisierung durch Beschleunigung. Raum und Mobilität im Zarenreich. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt, New York, 2006, 212.

76. When one of the place-date headings in an article has gone undetected by the regular expression (for example, due to some OCR error), the text of its message is merged with the previous one. If the two have different content, the performance of the topic model can be affected.

77. D. Angelov. Top2Vec: Distributed Representations of Topics, (accessed 03/01/2023).

78. Paris, 27. Juni. (St.-A.) Der heutige „Moniteur“ meldet, einer telegraphischen Depesche zufolge, aus Wien vom 26. d.: Die Diviston Coronini hat Ordre, sich dereit zu halten, um über Giurgewo (?) nach Bukarest zu marschiren. RZ, 19/06/1854/no. 139.

79. RZ, 29/08/1855/no. 198.

80. Paris, 19. October. (A. A. Z.) Den Berichten der Pariser Zeitungen über die Krim ist so wenig Glauben wie irgend möglich beizulegen. Sie haben einzig zum Zweck, die Börse, wenigstens so lange als möglich, bei gutem Glauben zu erhalten. Die strengsten Befehle sind z. B. den verschiedenen Blättern in Betreff der Zahlenverhältnisse gegeben, wir sind gegenwärtig bereits bei 120,000 Mann alliirten Truppen angelangt, während dieselben schwerlich mehr als 75,000 Mann zählen. Beim Altfort sind 60,000 Mann gelandet; das Gefecht an der Alma, Krankheit, Gefangennahme c.. haben einen Verlust von wenigstens 8000 Mann herbeigeführt, wozu 23,000 Mann Verstärkungen gestoßen seyn mögen. Ueber 75,000 Mann beträgt daher das Belagerungsheer nicht. RZ 16/10/1854/no. 241.

81. O. Figes. Crimea: The Last Crusade. Penguin, London, 2011, 367–370.

82. See for example RZ, 17/06/1855/no. 137 (about the supposedly bad treatment of the allied forces by the Turks); RZ 14/04/1854/no. 84 (about various problems of the allied garrison in Constantinople); and RZ 28/08/1854/no. 199 (about discipline and health problems in Constantinople).

83. Kopenhagen, 11. April. (T. D. d. C. B.) Admiral Napier ist von hier nach Kjöge abgereist, und wird noch heute mit 23 Schiffen die Kjöge-Bucht verlassen. Es ist noch unbekannt, wohin derselbe segeln wirdRZ 03/04/1854/no. 77. These updates from Copenhagen and other Baltic port cities continue throughout the war and their frequency is directly related to the allied naval activity on the Baltic Sea. See also for example RZ11/03/1854; RZ 16/04/1854/no. 57; RZ 30/04/1855/ no. 98, etc.

84. O. Figes. Crimea, 378.

85. Ibid.

86.  Source: Livländischer Kalender auf das Jahr… 1800–1890.

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