Trends in the Humanities: Periodical Studies

We’ve focused a lot on technology and administration so far in this blog, but ACRL is full of reference and subject librarians who also need to keep up on general trends in scholarship in the academic disciplines in order to perform liaison work, answer reference questions, and build rich, up-to-date collections.

The March issue of the Publications of the Modern Language Association includes an article about the emergence of a new field directly relevant to academic libraries: periodical studies. (Sean Latham and Robert Scholes, “The Rise of Periodical Studies” 517-532.)

The idea behind periodical studies is that a scholar examines the complete contents of a periodical as a whole instead of viewing periodicals as containers for individual articles. A researcher in this field would look at what articles, essays, stories, letters, advertisments etc. were published in a periodical and why, and how the periodical and its readers shaped and were shaped by the broader culture of the time.

One force driving this new field is large-scale digitization projects. Digitization projects of runs of periodicals include both those that are freely available such as the Spectator Project and the Modernist Journals Project; and those by huge corporations such as Thomson Gale’s archive of the London Times, and ProQuest’s Historical Newspapers and British Periodicals.

The authors of the article point out some of the challenges of searching these digital archives (not enough metadata, errors in the full-text make for problematic full-text searches) and bring attention to “the hole in the archive” problem: the complete omission of advertisements, which for scholars in cultural studies are often more interesting than the articles. The authors offer these guidelines for digital archiving:

– Start with the original issues.
– Present images of all pages from cover to cover.
– Generate metadata for advertisements along with other features.
– Include the verbal parts of advertising as text for searching to the extent that typography allows.
– On the visible pages, highlight hits in searches.

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