Downloading: A Century of British Pathé Newsreels

pathe_6da6dceb176b5785e86615b8619ffb28With today’s constant digital feed of news both major and minor, it’s fascinating to think back to an era where newsreels supplied much of the world’s news in motion. In an era still ruled by newspapers and radio, newsreel series from The March of Time, Fox Movietone News, Universal Newsreels, British Pathé and others brought events from far corners of the world to local movie house audiences. Presenting news in motion with dramatic music, voiceovers, selective edits and even reenactments, newsreels provided important foundations for how people would eventually consume video news via television in the latter half of the 20th-century and online in the 21st-century.

British Pathé announced this past week the availability of much of its archive of some 85,000+ HD videos available via YouTube. Some videos appear in their original full newsreels including iconic opening titles, graphics and voiceovers. The A Day That Shook The World series offers more modern edits of pivotal world events from a UK perspective. Other videos are mere snippets, often presented without sound or much context.

Topics covered in the British Pathé newsreels range from celebrity, politics and British royalty to industry, disasters, contemporary slices of life and news from the British Empire worldwide. From the historical to the humorous to the downright bizarre, the newsreel collection paints a wide picture of nearly 100 years of life on Earth.

For people with an interest in armed conflict of the 20th-century, the British Pathé collection has some gems. The Second Boer War gets a little coverage in some amazing footage from the years around the turn of the 20th-century. World War I is covered in major battles such as the Somme and Verdun, but also short features on new technologies like tanks and news from the home front.

Second Boer War

World War I

World War II coincided with the peak era of newsreels, and the British Pathé collection provides an amazing document. There are full newsreels covering the Battle of Dunkirk and the Battle of Arnhem from Operation Market Garden. The brutal siege and liberation of Stalingrad gets a lot of coverage, as does the major battles of the Pacific like Iwo Jima. Nail-biting aerial and naval combat from throughout the war is also documented in some stellar footage.

World War II

There’s a ton of additional military-themed footage in the post-WWII era covering the Cold War events, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Six Day War and the Falkands War. Seeing history come alive in video vignettes from British Pathé, often with more than a glint of heroic propagandist presentation, is just another opportunity to view history as contemporary audiences once saw it. With more and more archives enabling wide distribution of their photo, film, map and document collections online, armchair historians everywhere can tap into a wealth of information painting an ever-widening picture of our past.

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