Cohering Knowledge in the Nineteenth Century: Form, Genre and Periodical Studies


This paper argues that as we reimagine nineteenth-century periodicals and newspapers as digital objects we should pay particular attention to how we model their forms. As something that is repeated with each issue, form is both a key component of a particular publication’s identity and the mechanism through which it accommodates the events that it reports. Through a reading of John Tyndall’s “Discourse on the Scientific Use of the Imagination,” I argue that form is the means through which scientists imagined what they did not know, substituting system and structure for the unordered abundance of the natural world. Journalism, oriented towards an equally complex and changing world, similarly attempts to represent it as ordered and knowable. The orientation of titles towards particularly newsworthy institutions acts as a filter, identifying certain types of information at the expense of countless others, and the organization of publications into sections allocates space for events to be reported even before they occur. In this way the forms of the press operate in a similar fashion to the scientific imagination, displacing the new with the familiar, the unknown with the yet-to-be-known, and chaos with system.