We address the problem of observing periodic changes in the behaviour of a large population, by analysing the daily contents of newspapers published in the United States and United Kingdom from 1836 to 1922. This is done by analysing the daily time series of the relative frequency of the 25K most frequent words for each country, resulting in the study of 50K time series for 31,755 days. Behaviours that are found to be strongly periodic include seasonal activities, such as hunting and harvesting. A strong connection with natural cycles is found, with a pronounced presence of fruits, vegetables, flowers and game. Periodicities dictated by religious or civil calendars are also detected and show a different wave-form than those provoked by weather. States that can be revealed include the presence of infectious disease, with clear annual peaks for fever, pneumonia and diarrhoea. Overall, 2% of the words are found to be strongly periodic, and the period most frequently found is 365 days. Comparisons between UK and US, and between modern and historical news, reveal how the fundamental cycles of life are shaped by the seasons, but also how this effect has been reduced in modern times.