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Summary Article: periodical
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

a publication that is issued regularly. It is distinguished from the newspaper in format in that its pages are smaller and are usually bound, and it is published at weekly, monthly, quarterly, or other intervals, rather than daily. Periodicals range from technical and scholarly journals to illustrated magazines for mass circulation.

Evolution of Periodicals

The French Journal des scavans (1665–1792), edited by “Sieur de Hedouville” (Denis de Sallo), is considered to have been the first periodical. A literary, scientific, and art weekly, it was widely imitated in Europe. German periodicals began late in the 18th cent. as information magazines in dialogue form, later evolving into literary and scientific journals. Under Hitler periodicals were primarily vehicles of Nazi propaganda, and the traditional magazines were suppressed or destroyed.


Toward the end of the 17th cent. periodicals patterned after the Journal des scavans began to appear in England. The success of Sir Richard Steele's Tatler (1709–11) and its successor, the Spectator (1711–12), written almost entirely by Steele and by Joseph Addison, ushered in the great 18th-century English periodical literature. The Rambler (1750–52) virtually made Samuel Johnson's reputation; he contributed to all but five of its 208 issues. Tobias Smollett and Dr. Johnson wrote for the Tory Critical Review (1756–1817). The monthly Gentleman's Magazine (1731–1868) was the first to use the word magazine in the sense of a periodical for entertainment.

Among the foremost English periodicals of the 19th cent. were the Edinburgh Review (1802–1929), which numbered among its contributors Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Macaulay, Thomas Carlyle, Matthew Arnold, and William Hazlitt; Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine (renamed Blackwood's Magazine; 1817–1980), noted for satire; The Spectator (1828–); and the Westminster Review (1824–1914), an organ of Benthamite reform (see Bentham, Jeremy). Nineteenth-century English novels often appeared first as magazine serials. Charles Dickens edited Household Words (1850–59) and All the Year Round (1859–95), and many of his novels appeared in them. The Cornhill Magazine (1860–1975), first edited by W. M. Thackeray, published his last two novels and some by Mrs. Gaskell and by Anthony Trollope.

The Yellow Book (1894–97), edited by Aubrey Beardsley and Henry Harland, was notable for literature, humor, and illustrations. The humorous weekly Punch (1841–1992), remains the most famous of its kind. The Economist (1843–), despite its name, is an international newsweekly with a larger readership in the United States than in Britain. At first, publication of periodicals was hampered by difficulties of distribution. Postage was practically prohibitive; since postmasters could frank (mail without charge) what they sent out, they frequently became publishers.

The United States

Before the American Revolution only about 15 periodicals, with an average life of 10 months, were published. Andrew Bradford's American Magazine; or, A Monthly View of the Political State of the British Colonies (Philadelphia, 1741), Benjamin Franklin's General Magazine and Historical Chronicle (Philadelphia, 1741), and William Bradford's American Magazine and Monthly Chronicle (Philadelphia, 1757–58) were the most notable. During the Revolution outstanding periodicals included the Pennsylvania Magazine (Philadelphia, 1775–76), edited by Thomas Paine, and the United States Magazine (Philadelphia, 1779).

After the war periodicals appeared in large numbers. Of more than 70 established before 1800 the most notable were the Columbian Magazine (1786–92); the Massachusetts Magazine (1789–96); and the New York Magazine (1790–97). One of the best-known American magazines of the early 19th cent. was the Port Folio (Philadelphia, 1801–27). The most important review in America was the North American Review (1815–1940). Among its editors were Jared Sparks, Edward Everett, E. T. Channing, James Russell Lowell, and Henry Adams. The New-York Mirror (1823–57) attained eminence for literary reviews and superior typography and illustration. Edgar Allan Poe contributed critical essays.

The period from 1830 to 1850 saw the rise of nationally circulated monthlies. Advertising, a minor factor since its introduction in 1741 in the General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, became a mainstay of publishing. Godey's Lady's Book (Philadelphia, 1830–92; New York, 1892–98), edited from 1837 to 1877 by Sarah Josepha Hale, was among the most famous periodicals for women; its colored fashion plates are valued today by collectors.

Among the notable American periodicals with long histories are the Atlantic Monthly (Boston, 1857–), edited for 10 years (1871–81) by William Dean Howells; Harper's Magazine (New York, 1850–), which, fully illustrated with woodcuts and carrying serial installments of English novels, achieved new heights of popularity; and the weekly Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia, 1821–1971). Scribner's Monthly was renamed the Century Illustrated Magazine (1881) and the Century Monthly (1925) and united (1929) with the Forum to form the Forum and Century (1930–40).

Noted American weeklies included Harper's Weekly (New York, 1857–1916), for which George W. Curtis wrote famous editorials and Thomas Nast drew cartoons; and the Independent (New York and Boston, 1848–1928), at first Congregationalist under Henry Ward Beecher (1861–63) and Theodore Tilton (1863–70) but later a nonsectarian, crusading publication. The Overland Monthly (San Francisco, 1868–1935) had many distinguished contributors and was edited (1868–70) by Bret Harte. The sensational exposés by the muckrakers of political, social, and economic injustices brought fame to McClure's (New York, 1893–1928); Hampton's Magazine (New York, 1898–1912); Cosmopolitan (New York, 1886–, greatly altered in 1965); Collier's (New York, 1880–1957); and others.

The New Yorker (1925–) is known for urbane humor and high literary standards. Reader's Digest (1922–), a small-format monthly, first offered condensations of books and magazine articles, and now prints original reports as well. It has built a vast circulation and issues many foreign-language editions. News is summarized, analyzed, and categorized according to topics each week in Time (New York, 1923–); Newsweek (New York, in print 1933–2012, 2014–; online only 2013–14), which formerly competed more directly with Time, now emphasizes opinion and commentary. The great picture weeklies Life (1936) and Look (1937), despite their enormous circulations, succumbed in the late 1960s and early 70s to the pressure of rising production costs and television competition that profoundly injured all but special-interest magazine publishing. Life was revived from 1978 to 2000 as a monthly and has since been reissued in occasional special editions and as a newspaper insert (2004–7).

Special-Interest Magazines

During the 18th cent. periodicals intended for special-interest groups were developed, and magazines for lawyers, musicians, artisans, and for women appeared. By the late 19th cent. magazines were reaching an audience of mass consumers; they were produced by new and faster printing processes, and they were supported by advertising. The new social critics joined literary innovators to create a number of specialized periodicals. The minority appeal of these journals limited their circulation and dictated modest formats; hence they were dubbed the little magazines. Many were short-lived; others survived because contributions of readers or philanthropists met their deficits. Yet because their readership comprised intellectuals and public figures, their influence far exceeded their circulation.

The Nation (1865–), was a forerunner of this movement. Another liberal journal, the New Republic (1909–), has had among its editors Walter Lippmann (1914–17) and Henry A. Wallace (1946–48). The American Mercury (1924–50) was founded by H. L. Mencken, its editor until 1933; it opposed orthodoxy in general. The Saturday Review (1924–86), formerly the Saturday Review of Literature, was a significant journal of literary and art criticism. The Partisan Review (1933–83), a liberal quarterly, became celebrated for its literary and political articles, as did the New Leader (1924–). Conservative magazines, arising in response to the liberal ones, include Common Sense (1932–46) and the National Review (1955–), founded by William F. Buckley, Jr.

By 1900 the number of American monthlies had expanded to about 1,800, reaching nearly 1 million families. Magazines for women came to dominate magazine circulation. The most important of these were the Ladies' Home Journal (1883–), the Woman's Home Companion (1873–1955), McCall's Magazine (1870–2001) and Vogue (1892–). Vanity Fair (1913–36), devoted to literature and the arts, was superbly edited (by Frank Crowninshield) and designed. It was revived in 1981 as a glossy mixture of profiles of celebrities and more serious articles.

Specialized periodicals serve most professions, industries, and organizations. The oldest American scientific periodicals include the American Journal of Science (New Haven, 1818–), the Franklin Journal (Philadelphia, 1826–1828), and the Scientific American (1845–). National Geographic Magazine (1888–), devoted to natural history, travel, and anthropological subjects, was one of the first periodicals to use color photographs. The proliferation of special-interest magazines in the 1980s was aimed at audiences interested in certain subjects, such as parenting, travel, or music.

Other specialized magazines of interest include Ms. (1972–), a forum for the women's liberation movement; Publishers Weekly, a trade journal of book publishing; Sports Illustrated (1954–); Ebony (1946–), a picture weekly directed toward African-American readership; and the satirical National Lampoon (1970–92). In addition, a tremendous circulation exists for the cruder magazine forms: comic books; fan magazines of the entertainment media; true romance, confession, soap opera, and police magazines; and the various periodicals devoted to sex or sexuality, including Playboy (1953–) and Penthouse (first U.S. publication, 1969). Magazines of this last group constitute a publishing phenomenon and are widely imitated.

Toward the end of the 20th cent. advances in computer technology and its wider availability to the public have made possible the delivery of magazine articles through on-line services. In addition, in the 1990s the computer revolution began to spawn entirely electronic periodicals, such as The Online Journal of Current Critical Trials, a professional medical journal that began publishing in 1992. Although it and others failed, by 2000 there were more than 8,000 electronic journals and other periodicals. Subsequently, the developed of e-readers and e-reader software for electronic tablets has created a new and thriving market for periodicals. For indexes to periodicals, see index.

  • See Marr, G. S. , Periodical Essayists of the Eighteenth Century (1924);.
  • Bond, R. P. , Studies in the Early English Periodical (1957).
  • For periodicals in the United States, see Peterson, T. B. , Magazines in the Twentieth Century (2d ed. 1964);.
  • Mott, F. L. , A History of American Magazines (5 vol., 1957-68);.
  • Gill, B. , Here at The New Yorker (1975);.
  • Tebbel, J. , The Magazine in America (1991);.
  • Janello, A. , The American Magazine (1991);.
  • W. Ayer; Son, Directory of Newspapers and Periodicals (pub. yearly).
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