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  • From the Periodical Archives:Notes, Comments, and Editorial Practices at the Back of the Magazine

Since inaugurating this archival section of American Periodicals four years ago, we have reprinted a rich array of primary source documents, ranging from little-known works by Charles Brockden Brown, Ann S. Stephens, and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps to Civil War interviews to early twentieth-century comic strips. We have also focused on some key editorial features of nineteenth-century magazines. Our very first archive, in the fall of 2004, featured a selection of introductory addresses by editors, and we have also reprinted a selection of mastheads and an account of the "mechanical department" of Godey's Lady's Book. Such features are a key part of the visible and invisible work that editors perform in their dual roles, in Ellen Gruber Garvey's words, "as gatekeepers, admitting or excluding material, and as generators of community, inviting readers to see themselves gathered around a magazine."1 In this issue's archive, we turn to another key editorial feature: the notes and comments section that often appeared at the back of magazines. The particular examples here—taken from 1890 issues of the North American Review and Belford's Magazine—demonstrate the ways in which this back section could showcase both the gatekeeping and community-building functions of editorial work, providing a forum for commentary on the rest of the magazine.

In 1890, the North American Review was one of the United States' most influential magazines. Founded in Boston in 1815 and edited for much of the century by Harvard professors, it initially focused on New England writers, Boston publishers and learned societies, and Harvard itself. In 1878, however, its publication offices moved to New York and, under the editorial guidance of Allen Thorndike Rice, it broadened its scope to include a wider range of national topics. In 1891, it reached its peak circulation of 76,000, up from a low of 1,200 after the [End Page 239] Civil War. Rice and his successor, Lloyd Bryce, were increasingly willing to address controversial subjects, such as immigration, although they did not always agree on political issues.2

In the early 1890s, Belford's Magazine was a much more recent addition to the New York magazine scene. An offshoot of the cheap book and encyclopedia publishing firm Belford, Clarke and Company, Belford's had begun publication in Chicago in 1888, where it focused on Democratic political party issues, such as free trade. Indeed, its status as a "party magazine" was so well established that its publisher, Robert J. Belford, once sued the Democratic National Committee for the cost of the copies it had distributed during a campaign. In addition to politics, it published fiction, poetry, book and theater reviews, and science articles. Facing credit problems, Belford, Clarke and Company announced in 1889 that it had split into two corporations, one in Chicago and one in New York. The magazine, though published and distributed through the Chicago office, appears to have retained close editorial ties to the New York office. The magazine folded in 1893.3

In 1890, then, the North American Review was a Brahmin magazine that had recently reinvented itself as a national journal and was enjoying record circulations, while Belford's was a newly-established partisan paper that was struggling to stay afloat. At the same time, the two magazines shared contributors (such as Julian Hawthorne, Kate Field, Richard Henry Stoddard, and Hamlin Garland), and both were interested in taking on controversial subjects. One of the most controversial of those subjects, and one that they shared, was the rehabilitation campaign of former Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Davis published a number of articles in Northern magazines in the decade before he died in 1889, working to clarify his position on states' rights and to restore his reputation. This rehabilitation was part of an overall effort at the end of the nineteenth century to articulate the nation's collective memory of the Civil War, a process that was, as David Blight has shown, a complex intermingling of "race and reunion" that was simultaneously reconciling and racially separatist.4

The North American Review's connection with Davis began in 1888...


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