In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section History of the British and Irish Magazine

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works, General Databases, and Overviews
  • Textbooks and Anthologies
  • Methodologies and Theories
  • Economics

Communication History of the British and Irish Magazine
Andrew King
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 March 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0198


While the study of newspaper history dates from the 19th century, it was only in the 20th century that the history of magazines began to be written. Since then, the bibliography useful for the history of British and Irish magazines has grown enormously, covering period-based studies, magazines aimed at specific and at general audiences, the representation of specific social groups or topics, and the economics of production and consumption. While there is a slew of textbooks aimed at aspirants to work in the magazine industry, there is only a small number of textbooks devoted to the history of the press where magazines play a prominent role. In the 21st century, digital versions of both historical and contemporary magazines have vastly increased the range of material available for use. Most studies have focused on magazines published in London, though there is increasing attention to those published outside the metropolis as well as in languages other than English, and on transnational connections. Reflection on how magazines should be studied has also been of concern, with studies of 20th- and 21st-century publications especially owing a great deal to theories concerning representation and to political economy. Though there has been some work on general audiences, far more work has been done on magazines targeting specific audiences, particularly women and the reader-producers of “literature.” While discussion of earlier magazines continues to owe more to literary and historical paradigms (often with an ethical emphasis), recent work has also turned attention to the technologies and systems that produced magazines.

Reference Works, General Databases, and Overviews

For magazines to be separated out from the more general media context is potentially a problem because of the format’s permeable borders with other media forms. As Black 2001 shows, these borders initially comprised newspapers and books, both of which enjoyed a close relationship with magazines in terms of ownership, distribution, and shared content. Conboy 2004, like Cox and Mowatt 2014, shows how in the 20th century, cinema, radio, television, and computing made synergistic relations with magazines, assisted by the reorganization of the media into vast transnational conglomerates. The essays in Holmes 2009 and Riley 1993 exemplify the crossing of national as well as platform borders in today’s global media conglomerates, such as Condé Nast, who publish different versions of the same magazines in different languages. That magazines have long been themselves a composite of different media is evident in terms of their design history, which, as Quinn 2016 demonstrates, has mixed images and words from the beginning. Of the databases cited here, Gale Cengage Artemis and JISC. Historical Texts offer searching across newspapers, books, periodicals, and magazines, while Proquest British Periodicals and Magforum are resources focused on magazines themselves.

  • Black, Jeremy. 2001. The English press, 1621–1861. Stroud, UK: Sutton.

    Although focusing overwhelmingly on the newspaper press, this authoritative volume gives context especially useful for the 17th and 18th centuries when the lines between newspaper and magazine were not so firmly drawn.

  • Conboy, Martin. 2004. Journalism: A critical history. London and Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    While centering on the history of the British news industry from newsbooks to the end of the 20th century, magazines also play a considerable role. This is a broadly synthetic account relying on secondary sources.

  • Cox, Howard, and Simon Mowatt. 2014. Revolutions from Grub Street: A history of magazine publishing in Britain. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199601639.001.0001

    The first long-range history of magazine business industry, although only the first thirty-six pages cover the centuries before the 20th. Subsequent chapters bring the history of the magazine up to date with substantial material on both the changing landscape of print and the 21st-century turn to digital platforms.

  • Gale Cengage Artemis.

    Gale Cengage has emerged as one of the two main private providers of online content relevant to the history of British magazines and newspapers. Artemis includes 19th Century UK Periodicals and the Punch Historical Archive.

  • Holmes, Tim. 2009. Mapping the magazine: Comparative studies in magazine journalism. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

    A collection of essays that originally appeared as a special number of Journalism Studies, this very useful volume offers fourteen essays most of which concern magazines outside Britain and Ireland. There are, however, important theoretical and methodological reflections in many that will help the historian of British and Irish periodicals, as well as a literature review of the study of magazines by Holmes in the introduction and an essay by Sammye Johnson on the relationship between the magazine industry and academia.

  • JISC. Historical Texts.

    Database that brings together EEBO: Early English Books Online (cited under Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century), ECCO (Eighteenth-Century Collections Online), and the British Library Nineteenth-Century Collection. Primarily useful for supplementary material on magazines.

  • Magforum.

    A website run by Anthony Quinn (see Quinn 2016). Though primarily focusing on contemporary magazines, this is a very useful beginner’s resource with many links to external content, a short annotated bibliography, and basic definitions of specialist industry terms.

  • Proquest British Periodicals.

    Based on Proquest’s microfilm collections, this set of four full-text cross-searchable databases offering digital facsimiles covers nearly five hundred British magazines published from the late 17th century onward.

  • Quinn, Anthony. 2016. British magazine design. London: V&A.

    Design history of British magazines from 1842 to 2011, focusing on weekly and monthly consumer titles. Technology, typography, and graphic design are covered in brief essays that head each of eight chapters which comprise mainly reproductions of pages with brief commentaries on each.

  • Riley, Sam G., ed. 1993. Consumer magazines of the British Isles. London: Greenwood.

    The volume comprises essays in the same general format as those in Sullivan 1984 (cited under Audiences: Literary) on fifty of the best-known magazines aimed at the public that were still being published in the early 1990s. The essays, many of which were written by students or professional journalists, are less academic than those in Sullivan, but the collection remains a valuable starting point.

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