American Literature Nineteenth-Century American Magazines
Ashlyn Stewart, Kenneth M. Price
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 April 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0215


Studying the literature, history, or culture of 19th-century America often requires one to read magazines from the time period. Even more so than today, 19th-century magazines were a place for readers of all kinds across the growing nation to consume news, literature, entertainment, advice, illustrations, and more. Therefore, they provide a valuable record of what the 19th century was like for various segments of society and make for a compelling topic of research in their own right. As printing machinery, distribution networks, and business practices advanced, magazines evolved from short-lived, largely local affairs in the 1830s to long-lasting, wide-reaching publications in the 1880s. Magazines grew in their reach, influence, and sometimes page count; improved in quality of contributor content, presentation, and illustrations; and became more numerous, stable, and enduring. Despite all the changes magazines underwent during the 19th century, one characteristic remained consistent: they were essential forums for 19th-century print culture. For the purposes of this bibliography, we rely on the Oxford English Dictionary definition of “magazine”: the term has been used since at least the early 18th century to describe “a periodical publication containing articles by various writers”—particularly ones that are prepared for a readership with a specialized interest. This definition is broad enough to capture other serialized print publications, and we embrace the inclusive interpretation. The line dividing newspapers from magazines is especially unclear because these media have elastic boundaries; the line has become even more muddied within modern magazine scholarship because studies treating marginalized groups often rely heavily on newspapers. Therefore, we have chosen to be expansive in our treatment of magazines, meaning our sources occasionally consider other serial forms of print because they were an integral part of the wider print landscape of the 19th century. We often use the term “periodical” to include these serialized publications that weren’t strictly magazines. In this bibliography, some studies make heavy use of newspapers oriented toward readers with specific cultural, racial, or ethnic identities. Similarly, scholarship about books is not the focus of this bibliography; however, magazines were often printed in the same shops as books by the same publishers and were distributed along the same routes. Therefore, information about the larger book market and distribution is frequently essential to the works included here. Finally, studying magazines usually requires a multidisciplinary approach that draws on the established fields of literature, history, book history, and cultural studies. It also can require several methodological lenses, including close reading of texts; consideration of historical contexts; biographies of writers and publishers; sensitivity to class, gender, and race; concern for material and economic constraints in production; an eye for audience; thought about distribution; and attention to both niche and mass cultures. This bibliography attempts to wrangle sources from disparate fields and approaches to provide a starting place for those curious about the many facets of 19th-century American magazines.

General Overviews

No study of magazines in the United States is complete without Mott 1930, Mott 1938a, Mott 1938b, and Mott 1957 (cited under A History of American Magazines Series), a series of works that provide summaries about prominent magazines and the larger 19th-century publishing contexts that produced and fostered them. For a comprehensive overview of book history, publishing, and more, Casper, et al. 2007; Kaestle and Radway 2009; and Gross and Kelley 2010 (all cited under A History of the Book in America Series) together explain book history in the United States from 1790 to 1940, with several essays pertaining specifically to periodicals. Charvat 1993 (under Other Overviews) provides a foundational book history perspective on studying periodicals and books more broadly, while Abrahamson and Prior-Miller 2015 (under Other Overviews) shares several methodological approaches and concerns about magazines and their form.

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