New Bibliographic Controls for Victorian Periodicals

By Schmidt, Barbara Quinn | Nineteenth-Century Prose, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

New Bibliographic Controls for Victorian Periodicals


Schmidt, Barbara Quinn, Nineteenth-Century Prose


J. Don Vann and Rosemary T. VanArsdel, eds., Victorian Periodicals and Victorian Society (U of Toronto P, 1994, paper reprint 1995), 370 pp., $35 paper; and J. Don Vann and Rosemary T. VanArsdel, eds., Periodicals of Queen Victoria's Empire: An Exploration (U of Toronto P, 1996), 371 pp., $80.

Thirty years ago, the founders of the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals sought to gain bibliographical control of the vast array of basically unknown periodicals by locating runs of them, describing their editorial bias and content, identifying publisher and editorial staff, and making the information available to Victorianists and specialists interested in the history of their disciplines. The four volumes edited by J. Don Vann and Rosemary T. VanArsdel chart the progress toward this goal in their excellent guides, which illustrate the tremendous strides made by scholars in the intervening years. Given the huge quantity of periodicals and the unavailability of many, this accomplishment is extraordinary. The expansion in the field is exemplified by both volumes under consideration here, but most obviously in the second, which was originally to have been a chapter in the first; however, the existence of sufficient valuable research on periodicals in specific geographical areas of the Empire justified a separate compilation of comparable size and value.

A glance at Don Vann and Rosemary T. VanArsdel's Victorian Periodicals: A Guide to Research (1978), their original volume of 188 pages, reveals the state of the study less than twenty years ago, which provides still useful, general assistance and an historical overview of how to begin to research periodicals. Many fields receive approximately one page, with music, law, and university journalism each summarized in a single brief paragraph, indicating the rudimentary state of the research. The companion volume with the same title (1989) contributes more specialized studies, including art history, British women's serials, children's magazines, religion, the radical and labor press, and Welsh and Scottish periodicals.

Casual users of the volumes under review cannot but be grateful for the precise assistance in gaining access to periodicals of a specific profession or part of the globe in a brief, easy to follow format. If such readers glance through the introduction of Victorian Periodicals and Victorian Society, they are likely to become fascinated by the variety, vitality and importance of periodicals whose potential, John S. North recently proclaimed, has as yet scarcely been touched (3). Circulation of 19th-century periodicals and newspapers probably was larger and more influential than printed books and served a broader segment of the population.

The volume illustrates the interdisciplinary nature of many specialties, a good number of which only came into existence in the 19th century, and assists an interested reader in exploring the evolution of a field. The emergent sense of professionalism occurring in the period is evident in such areas as various as authorship, medicine, sports, the military, and the ministry. Anyone informed of the existence of a thousand scientific journals at mid-century will appreciate the tremendous energy and devotion of the new specialists through the guidance offered by William H. Brock's essay.

Topicality grew in importance given the urgently felt need to know more about more. In examining this phenomenon in The Presence of the Present, Richard Ahick relies heavily on periodicals. Rapid change meant that as early as "the 1830s almost all initial scientific communication took place through specialist periodicals rather than books," according to Brock (5), leading to the ultimate shift from theology and philosophy to science as the supreme example of human intellectual endeavor (96) and concomitant fragmentation into specializations. The sheer increase in audience and readers led to demands for higher quality and professionalism in the arts as well. …

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