- A Novel View of Periodicals in Early America
Jared Gardner’s The Rise and Fall of Early American Magazine Culture joins a growing body of recent scholarship that foregrounds the magazine’s participation in national and transatlantic conversations about literature, politics, and economy. Expanding on the bibliographic foundations provided by Frank L. Mott’s A History of American Magazines 1741–1850 (1930) and Lyon N. Richardson’s A History of Early American Magazines, 1741–1789 (1931), scholars in the past decade have raised new questions about the organization and operation of a public sphere, print, and American identity, and the performative nature of early American communications. For example, Patricia Okker’s Social Stories: The Magazine Novel in Nineteenth-Century America (2003) investigates the relationship between the production and reading of serial fiction within periodicals and the creation of multiple publics in the new nation. Mark L. Kamrath and Sharon M. Harris’ edited collection Periodical Literature in Eighteenth-Century America (2005) illustrates that the diversity of magazine content helped establish this medium as an ideal platform for political debate, social dialogue, and intellectual exchange. Catherine O’Donnell Kaplan’s Men of Letters in the Early Republic: Cultivating Forums of Citizenship (2008) traces the efforts of Federalist magazine editors and authors to refine the American character through a steady offering of wit, sensibility, and learning.
As typified by three of the current authors named above (Okker, Kamrath, and Harris), literary scholars working in the United States have produced the lion’s share of current research on early American magazines. This topic has nonetheless proven to have wide appeal, as those working in economics, sociology, communications, and cultural studies, as well as history, have put their distinctive stamps on magazine scholarship by adopting different methodologies and interpretive schema. Two essays within the past decade, for instance, have used economic and sociological models to analyze success and failure in magazine proprietorship through the Civil War.1 The era’s magazine publications have also attracted increasing attention from academics outside [End Page 633] the United States. The scope of international contribution is evidenced by the University of Nottingham’s Knowledge Networks: Nineteenth Century American Periodicals, Print Cultures, and Communities, a year-long research project that included an interdisciplinary symposium held in May 2011, and the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz’s sponsorship of Life Writing in Early American Periodicals, 1790–1830, a recently completed research project that mapped out the centrality of biographical texts for magazine production in the decades following American independence.
Broader technological developments and intellectual currents further explain the resurgent interest in early American magazines, not least of which is the emergence of periodical studies as both an independent field and a subfield of the history of the book. The formation of such interdisciplinary institutions as the Research Society for American Periodicals and its attendant 1991 publication, American Periodicals: A Journal of History, Criticism, and Biography, points to the growing awareness that magazines (and newspapers) constitute “autonomous objects of study” within the humanities and social sciences.2 The creation of online archival databases has further facilitated the professionalization of periodical studies by providing digitized access to hundreds of magazine titles. The prodigious search and indexing capabilities of ProQuest American Periodical Series Online and EBSCO American Antiquarian Society (AAS) Historical Periodicals Collection has especially benefited early American scholarship by expanding analytical enquiry and fostering innovative research methods. Moreover, the advent of social media technologies and the participatory nature of platforms such as wikis (collaboratively edited websites) and blogs have spurred a reassessment of the processes by which magazines and other publications helped people form communities by facilitating the assemblage and sharing of ideas and information. Scholars have paid particular attention to the ways that print media operated within a broader communications network in early America, and they have also emphasized that the magazines of this era are best understood as collaborations realized through the integrated labors of readers, editors, and authors.
Gardner has produced a nuanced and sophisticated work that both reflects on...