The Modest Proposal

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Periodicals We Have Known Kevin M. Flanagan

Over its several year run, The Modest Proposal has changed focus and frequency. What began as a true miscellany has occasionally been buttressed by themes. While often meandering its way to publication upwards of three times a year, other commitments of the editor and its contributors have often meant but one issue per year. One thing that academic journals have taught me is that only the most diligent commercial magazines can stick to an absolute publication schedule. I've waiting months for double issues, or seen journals hold release of the last issue of a previous year well into the next year. And so, we join the ranks of the infrequent. This infrequence prompted me to think about our own odd schedule. Thus, this edition turns to "Periodicals," understood quite broadly. From newsletters to academic journals, periodicals abound. We dwell on some that are special to us.

With moveable face type and a general rise in literacy came the need for content. Reading audiences have a nearly endless appetite for words, whether they be practical or speculative, frivolous or fanciful. The OED places the first uses of "periodical", in the sense of "a magazine, journal, etc.: published at regular intervals" as first appearing in the early 18th century (their first listed usage comes from 1716 in, fittingly enough, a pamphlet by Joseph Addison). The word had been used to denote something that occurs, either at regular intervals or intermittently, at least a century before. A reading public, cheap paper, and a desire to comment on what is current have launched many a magazine. A Google N-Gram search of "periodical" places its most widespread usage during the mid-19th century, when mass literacy coincided with a more vigorous commitment to the scientific method and to a kind of golden age in English-language serialized entertainment, with frequently appearing yarns by the likes of Dickens, Conrad and Eliot. A smart, serious public with some cash to spare ensured the vibrancy of the form.

Of course, we still have periodicals, but they look a bit different. Many of the contributors to this edition of The Modest Proposal zero in on what was special about select magazines encountered in youth. Today, we have serialized content in the form of aggregated blogs, RSS feeds, and the Twitter stream. We still have academic journals, but now some of them are free and online. Some of us still read magazines in certain circumstances. Most of us miss some aspect of an older regime of print, while tacitly acknowledging our current embarrassment of riches.

Our focus on periodicals, at least for me, was prompted by a recent loss. Sadly, past The Modest Proposal contributor James M. Welsh passed away in Fall 2013. More than anyone I've ever met, Jim was dedicated to periodicals. He was founding co-editor of Literature/Film Quarterly, served on the editorial boards of many other periodicals (both academic and fan-oriented, as he was at one time involved with such ventures as Films in Review, and American Classic Screen), and continued to contribute to journals and magazines long after retirement. In addition to his contributions to The Modest Proposal, he had recently been involved with or had written for The Journal of American Studies in Turkey, The Journal of Popular Culture and The Journal of American Culture. He was a great collaborator and warm personality, and will be missed.

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