Periodicals and Serials

In recent years, early Americanists have begun to more closely investigate the post-Revolutionary US’s vibrant but short-lived periodical culture through a reevaluation of such prominent periodicals as the Columbian Magazine, The American Museum, Massachusetts Magazine, and The New York Magazine. Considering how differences in format necessitate a new way of reading, they have demonstrated that periodicals possess a range of features that separate them from the bound book. For example, because periodicals were a less expensive format, they were more accessible to a wider range of readers. Additionally, most periodical contributors were anonymous, which allowed for a more inclusive array of topics. Polyphony is another feature of periodicals. Poetry, linguistic translations, obituaries, Native American treatises, news, and other genres coexisted in one magazine issue, a reflection of the cacophonous voices of early American society.

An especially popular genre in many of these periodicals—and the focus of this archive—is the serial novel, a work of fiction published in installments over the course of weeks or months. Appreciating this shift in format, from book to periodical, therefore not only necessitates a larger awareness of periodical culture, but it also challenges us to think more about the experience of reading and writing serially. By looking at serialized novels, we see formally experimental texts, some contained in episodic, neatly configured excerpts, with a strong overarching narrative, and others with loose narratives, tied merely by similar characters or locations. Some novel installments stand alone, with readers able to join the narrative intermittently, while others would serve best as the greater part of a whole, something which required weekly patronage. In addition, novel installments were often printed without predetermined knowledge of how many weeks or months would be devoted to the story, thus requiring authors to adapt accordingly. In addition, readers were never assured that the novels would reach a resolution and therefore became accustomed to complex, dissonant texts in which narrative suspension was a defining feature.