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.

Victorian Periodicals and Victorian Society presents eighteen different areas of periodicals research in the professions, the arts, occupations and commerce, popular culture and views of society: Law, medicine, architecture, military, science, music, illustration, authorship and the book trade, theater, transport (mainly the railway), financial and trade press, advertising, agriculture, temperance, comic periodicals, sport, workers' journals, and student journals. Research in the periodical areas of comic, theater, and temperance for example, have grown so extensively since the last guide as to require full chapters.

Each essay provides a general introduction to the subject, identifies available bibliographic tools (if any), suggests further research ideas, and provides a list of periodicals with as much annotation as possible, including location. Format variations between essays are the result of unique differences of research situations. For example, the bibliography for music is presented chronologically because of the importance of evolution in the field, whereas university magazines are listed alphabetically because so many were of such short duration. The essays are succinct, from ten to twenty pages each, with only the thorough piece on "Music" by Leanne Langley nearing thirty pages. This section covers the regular writers on music in general periodicals due to the close relationship between music and educational, religious and social goals, and describes the need for various research strategies, made more feasible by the detailed select annotated list of music journals and their locations.

The first chapter, Richard A. Cosgrove's "Law," identifies not only the Law Library of the Bodleian system with open shelves and large holdings, but how that library is organized. On page 12 alone, Cosgrove saves a researcher innumerable hours of possibly fruitless searching. He also categorizes types of legal periodicals and cites contemporary scholarship.

In many essays, such as "Medicine" by M. Jeanne Peterson, a reader is offered advice on types of potential research in the 458 British medical periodicals (29), from the more obvious examinations of contents, publishing and business history, editors, ideology and readership, broader applications to unearthing the way a periodical reveals doctors', nurses', and unorthodox practitioners' visions of the world, and the exclusion of lay readership, to matters involving the occupation and class of patients, professional conflict, social problems, the climate, and the treatment of specific diseases (41).

In the "Military" essay, the surprising popularity of military magazines, the prominence of one publisher, Henry Colburn, and the influence on content and form of historical events are discussed, as well as the holdings in the British Library and across the States. And the commercial potential of "Illustration" across the professions offers virtually uncharted terrain for researchers, who are provided a select annotated list including secondary resources. The struggle by authors for recognition as a profession, the paucity of investigation into "magazines for amateur actors and societies" and theatrical periodicals in general, the ephemeral, transient student periodicals, the lack of systematic study of any section of the railway press or sporting periodicals, the misunderstanding of the financial and trade press--all indicate areas wide open to researchers and suggest tools and approaches to begin the exploration.

The most helpful pieces are those where the essayist is able to make comparisons, show influence, and describe the character of an important periodical in the field, especially if accompanied by locations of extensive runs. Although a reader, for instance, might wish to fault David Moss and Chris Hosgood for not affixing a list of the more significant longer runs of provincial financial papers, the authors point out how little work has been done in the area. The variations provide better insight into the uniqueness of the problems and approaches germane to each discipline.

The editors wisely did not insist on the uniformity appropriate to a directory or an index but not to a guide. "Advertising," for example, notes, "The way in which advertisements were designed, written, and deployed shows how creative techniques were evolving in response to contemporary thinking about the effect of advertising on consumer behaviour" (220) and its value to researchers in Victorian social history. However, as enjoyable as the brief, informative historical introductions to some essays are, they are not always directly relevant to the purpose of the volume and sometimes can only offer a vague understanding of the current state of research. And in the case of "Agriculture," the careful annotations of specific primary and secondary sources, including location, conclude with comments on what has been done with regard to history, not to periodicals research itself. Somewhat more satisfactorily, "Temperance" includes a shorter history before discussing the press, its purpose, problems, and rudimentary state of study. Therefore, more of the allotted pages are devoted to how to get at the periodicals themselves. Vann's own "Comic Periodicals" more successfully merges history with the general history of the journals, mentioning key ones with locations, the absence of a comprehensive study, yet noting the bibliographic work already accomplished. And Jonathan Rose's "Workers' Journals" provides sharp analysis, revealing the incredible development in the field since Joel Wiener's contributions in the first volumes, while still noting the limitations of standard sources and clearly articulating the basic knowledge necessary to begin a study. Rose, most helpfully, notes errors that have been corrected by subsequent research and ways of conceptualizing a project, and encourages further work in indexing periodicals such as the Bee-Hive. Fortunately, an extensive run of this periodical was discovered recently in a Michigan library, unknown even to the library, which gives us hope that research in Victorian periodicals will one day have the same bibliographical control in all areas of study.

The Index identifies periodicals, groups, and individuals, providing easy access to such information. George Eliot appears for her connection to agriculture and her use of it in two novels. Thomas Hardy provides a more varied example of what a reader can discover about an individual: As contributor, as author of a fictional scientific character, and as contributor to a symposium on the net system for authors; the location of his letters in the archives of the Authors' Syndicate; and the question of plagiarism of his novel Far from the Madding Crowd. The majority of items in the index have only one or two citations, and in the case of Matthew Arnold the page number is inaccurate. George Cruikshank has the most entries (seven).

In revealing the function and importance of the periodical press in Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Southern Africa, and the outposts of the Empire (Ceylon, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Malaya and Singapore, Malta, and the West Indies), Periodicals of Queen Victoria's Empire: An Exploration highlights the vastly different circumstances under which periodicals were created and existed. Fortunately, the internet allows access to databases in Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, India, and Singapore, which encourages research activity. The Introduction provides an excellent summary of the history of the development in the diverse colonies and their widely varying periodicals, which flourished where there was a clear purpose and market and struggled elsewhere. In comparison to the other chapters, "Australia" and "Canada" have more fully developed research strategies, whereas no research has been carried out about some outposts. Unlike earlier volumes, maps (either of individual countries with the major geographic divisions and main cities indicated, or of regions of the globe) are provided, visually suggesting the closeness or isolated nature of the reading population. Similarly, charts and tables are helpful, given the general unfamiliarity about these areas. The organization of each chapter indicates the uniqueness and the difficulties for compiling the research for the individual places. And unlike the work exclusively on England, researchers often had to deal with language and cultural differences between native inhabitants and the various immigrant groups.

"Australia" by Elizabeth Webby provides a succinct, informative overview of periodicals history and the history of the country with several pages on newspaper publishing, journal publication in its various forms (separating out quarterlies from monthlies and then examining monthlies by decade from the 1840s through the 1890s), followed by the weeklies, newspaper weeklies, illustrated weeklies, and then the subject magazines: Sporting, women's, religious, spiritual, temperance, and political. Library holdings, bibliographies, references, and notes suggest avenues for additional research. The first newspaper appeared fifteen years after the initial settlers and seventeen years before the first magazine edited by Methodist ministers. Newspapers survived the overseas competition because of the need for local news and advertisements for goods and land. The impetus for unity across the vast space encouraged the focus away from politics and toward areas of the humanities, a shared culture.

"Canada" by N. Merrill Distad and Linda M. Distad occupies a third of the text, indicating the extent of the work done in the field while highlighting the authors' frustration with the incomplete status of the research. A brief history of the country precedes the overview of the character, origins, and difficulties of the Canadian periodical press with frequent short runs (usually under three years), competition from the States, the growth of the newspaper press prior to magazines and the differences between provinces, changing technologies and markets, illustration and specific illustrators, advertising, politics and proprietors, sectarian influence, whole paragraphs devoted to important figures in this development, with the same provided for professional editors and journalists, including a separate section for women journalists. All of this precedes tables indicating the number of titles in the various areas covered in Victorian Periodicals and Victorian Society with the inclusion of family, fraternal, hobbyist and ethnic/native. Each area is discussed in about a page, including one each for improvement literature--literary/cultural/art/music--except for ethnic/native, which receives four times the coverage. The ninety-three endnotes contribute valuable sources and information not found elsewhere, even in the index. And the two-part bibliographic essay is so exhaustive that it alone is almost as long as the longest piece in the preceding volume. The two parts are divided into anthologies, articles, biographies, dissertations and monographs as separate from bibliographies, dictionaries, directories, indexes and finding aides. Brief information on locating copies and preservation efforts is also presented.

The length of "India" by Brahma Chaudhuri reflects the brief history of the newspaper, which was unknown in this predominantly oral culture until the end of the eighteenth century. The golden age of Indian periodical publications was the Victorian age. Journalism shaped Indian opinion and strengthened the colonization process under the watchful eye of the British. Chaudhuri contributes an introduction and history as well as a works consulted list and an annotated chronological list of 12.2 periodicals including a notation for those available on microfilm from the British Library's Newspaper Library. The scope of each entry includes key figures where possible.

"New Zealand" by J. Reginald Tye integrates the history of colonization with the Empire before discussing the newspaper press. Missionaries may have arrived simultaneously with the printing press, but denominational vehicles were the weekly and monthly periodicals. The first issue of the first newspaper was set up by colonists in London with the second set up in the harbor. A strong need for information and an opportunity for political debate about the nature of the new society encouraged growing literacy. Weeklies followed within a decade, then illustrated journals including numerous imitations of Punch. Religious, temperance, and suffrage periodicals receive the most attention, with the other areas delineated in Victorian Periodicals and Victorian Society condensed into a few pages under Miscellanea, whereas Maori newspapers and periodicals require an equal amount of space. Research aids are slightly more numerous than the suggestions for research.

After barely a page of introduction, "Southern Africa" by Brian D. Cheadle focuses on bibliographies of periodicals published between 1824 and 1900, the current work of PISAL (a computerized comprehensive account of the holdings of all registered Southern African libraries), studies and descriptions of periodicals, reprints and anthologies, and what is known about the territories of Bechuanaland, Basutoland, Rhodesia (the most extensive with fifty entries), St. Helena, Swaziland, and Zululand beyond South Africa. That Sidney Mendelssohn's bibliography indexed titles of articles pertinent to South Africa in select geographical magazines is noted. The main needs for future work are outlined briefly in the conclusion.

The organizational framework for "Outposts of Empire" by J. Don Vann and Rosemary T. VanArsdel is based on the annual bibliography of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature, deleting settlements around the globe that "failed to produce a significant periodical literature" (304). What to omit was easier to determine than how to describe what exists in such varied circumstances with incredibly challenging research conditions. A remarkable collection of colonial periodicals is housed at the Royal Commonwealth Society Library, complementing others found elsewhere in London. And a general bibliography is followed by specific sections on Ceylon, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Malaya and Singapore, Malta, and Antigua, Bahama Islands, Barbados, Bermuda, British Guiana, Jamaica (journals and newspapers), and Trinidad. Brief headnotes include relevant data about the place and its periodicals. However, since the overview in the Introduction to the volume places each in the context of the whole and discusses the variations present in the Empire, it should be read before this chapter.

The Index serves as an alphabetical finding list for such evocative titles as Fin, Fur, and Feather, Freethinker and New South Wales Reformer, Southern Phonographic Harmonica, Sporting Times and Canadian Gentleman's Journal, Students' Oracle, Town Talk, and True Royalist and Weekly Intelligencer. Trends, such as two titles incorporating "woman" whereas eight have "ladies," suggesting possible class issues, and ten with "Saturday" in the title, pointing to their weekly publication schedule, are also revealing. Fifteen have some form of "Free"--not including Unfettered Canadian--indicating the impetus for immigration. The thirteen that include "Colonial" or "Colonist" suggest editorial politics, and the number of British and American periodicals listed serve as reminders of the Empire and competition from abroad. However, because subject areas are less well developed, a reader would do well to consult the annotated lists in the chapters, especially for Canada, where immensely valuable information is found in the annotations.

Victorian Periodicals and Victorian Society, which shows the continued growth of knowledge about British periodicals, and Periodicals of Queen Victoria's Empire: An Exploration, which shows the sparsity and the almost desperate need for further research, are invaluable resources and should be in every college library and in the hands of serious researchers of the 19th century. We owe a debt of gratitude to Don Vann and Rosemary VanArsdel for their persistence in making periodicals accessible and their insistence on having the individual studies done by the most knowledgeable in each field, as is evident from the list of contributors to both volumes. The success of their efforts will be evident in the quality and quantity of knowledge made possible by the helpfulness these guides.

Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville

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