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Little Magazines in the United States

We have a vast and varied collection of American journals and magazines in the arts and humanities. The holdings range from microfilm of John H. Payne's The Thespian Mirror, originally published between December 1805 and May 1806, to The Last Supplement to the Whole Earth Catalog, edited by Ken Kesey and Paul Krassner in 1971.

Early Magazines | Little Magazines | Contemporary Magazines | British Library Collections

Early Magazines

The history of periodical publishing in the U.S. is rich and well documented. The beginning of the last century ushered in a spate of books examining the publishing history of the 18th and 19th centuries. Lyon N. Richardson, A History of Early American Magazines 1741-1789, 1931 [20017.b.20], already draws on several earlier publications in the field. Focusing on the early years of American periodical publication, Richardson identifies characteristics that, by and large, define the field in the following 100 years. Written by and for the educated classes, these periodicals were predominantly eclectic in content but were typically didactic in nature.

Material from Europe, which included contemporary works and "classics", was juxtaposed with home-grown American content such as poetry, science, politics, rhetoric, social comment, essays and occasional narrative. Periodicals were vehicles for intellectual communication and extended discussion of the issues of the day. Neither this, nor the education of the authors, guaranteed the quality or the success of the publication and many only appeared in one or two editions. Perhaps this did not overly matter: the authors were typically highly-educated amateurs for whom the production of periodicals was not a career per se but rather a pleasurable pursuit.

The end of the 19th century saw significant developments in every area of the publishing business, leading to a considerable professionalisation of the industry. Syndication became prevalent, distributing articles simultaneously across the U.S. and Europe. Copyright agreements with the U.K., originally intended to protect British authors from piratical reprints, now served U.S. authors sending their work to the U.K. Magazines such as McClure's [] began employ staff writers who would extensively research articles for illustrated serialisation. No longer offering just the personal views and opinions of an educated but amateur elite, magazines now proffered apparently independent journalism, based on well researched "facts" eloquently presented.


Little Magazines

The flipside of this increasing professionalism was an increasing sense of homogenisation that sparked a backlash in the form of what are now commonly termed "the little magazines". These, in many ways, harked back to the earlier era of American periodicals in their tendency towards coterie, their intellectual pretensions, and their frequently short lifespans. Unlike earlier journals, many women played prominent roles in the editing of little magazines, a development explored in detail by Jayne E Marek, Women Editing Modernism: "Little" Magazines and Literary History, 1995 [YA.1997.a.13656].

Since those who began to champion the modernist cause (the raw material of which appeared in these irregular and provocative little magazines) were frequently academics, it comes as no surprise to find that the next trend in publications came from the universities and colleges. With a certain inevitability, these periodicals whose cause was initially revolt and innovation became in time the bastions of received wisdom: bastions against which new writers in turn arrayed their artillery in another wave of little magazining.

This later spate of little magazining grew out of the beat and hippy movements. Drawing eclectically, as much from transatlantic Dadaism as from regionalised folk traditions, they presented political and social radicalism in aesthetic forms. Like the modernist little magazines before them, and the late 18th century periodicals before them, these publications appeared for a coterie audience and were frequently short-lived.


Contemporary Magazines

The development of both academic and independent strands in periodical publication has been symbiotically supported in the past thirty years by the proliferation of provision for creative writing, whether within the academic setting of university or the communal setting of urban and rural writing groups. Moreover, such proliferation has led to increased hybridity in content and editorial policy. Today, the internet and the accessibility of blogging provides the possibility for even greater hybridity and has given a new lease of life to the American traditions of miscellanies, satire, and communal production.


British Library Collections

The British Library collections represent an extensive cross section of America's periodical output in original copy and microfilm. They are augmented by a wide range of auxiliary material such as bibliographies and critical histories.

Of particular use is American Periodicals, 1741-1900, edited by Jean Hoornstra and Trudy Heath, 1979 [RAM 094.30973]. This volume provides a comprehensive introduction to the microfilm contents, through four separate indexes for periodical title, subject, editor and reel number. [Series 1 mic.a.130-162; Series 2 mic.a163-416, mic.a.3621-4212, mic.b.604/846-1966; Series 3 mic.b.606/1-771]. Frederick John Hoffman. The Little Magazine (Second edition), 1947 [HUR 051.09] is also invaluable; see also Steven Clay, A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: adventures in writing, 1960-1980: a sourcebook of information, 1998 [RF.2002.a.44]./p>

Twentieth century collections are supported by predominantly thematic bibliographies, such as Nancy K. Humphrey's American Women's Magazines: An Annotated Historical Guide, 1989 [2725.e.1297] and Walter Goldwater's Radical Periodicals in America 1890-1950, 1966 [2764.m.29]. The Greenwood Press series, Historical Guides to the World's Periodicals and Newspapers, devotes the majority of its output to American publications, presenting descriptive and bibliographical information about significant publications within thematically contrived volumes, for example, American Indian and Alaska Native Newspapers and Periodicals, 1971-1985, 1986 [2725.d.373] and Corporate Magazines of the United States, 1992 [YC.1992.b.4355].

For contemporary material the CLMP (Council of Literary Magazines and Presses) Directory of Literary Magazines and Presses is invaluable and is updated each year (the most recent holding is 2003 [YA.2003.a.29533]. This lists alphabetically individual presses and periodicals, along with information on editorial policy and contact details. The listing is also available through CLMP.

Many Americans, as authors and editors, have contributed to British Little Magazines over the years: the British Library collection is among the greatest of its kind.