Today’s post has been written by our Junior Fellow Nancy Lovas who just graduated from Berry College in Rome, Georgia. She is creating a guide covering American 19th century trade, finance, and industry periodicals.
Ideally, summer is a time for playing outside and swimming in the pool. Up here on the 5th floor of the John Adams Building, though, you’re apt to find the interns hiding from the heat of the day in the cool of the Reading Room or sneezing on old book dust. Happily, I’ve had the time to do both while discovering some 19th century treasures in the Library’s general collection.
My project for the summer consists of compiling a list of 19th century periodicals on international trade, commerce, and finance into a finding aid. Accomplishing this requires never-ending hunts through the stacks and lots of book dust sneezes. Publications have long names that tell you exactly what they’re about; helpful, certainly, in determining the subject matter but also a source of great amusement!
One afternoon, Niles’ Weekly Register wandered across my desk. Peeking inside the cover, I saw its full title: Niles’ Weekly Register: containing Political, Historical, Geographical, Scientific, Astronomical, Statistical, and Biographical Documents, Essays, and Facts; together with Notices of the Arts and Manufactures, and a Record of the Events of the Times. If that’s not a mouthful, what is? Published in Baltimore, the first issue went out on September 7, 1811, and each Saturday thereafter until September 1849. Hezekiah Niles owned, edited, wrote, and published the magazine until stepping down in 1836 due to ill health.
This particular news magazine caught my attention. First, not many periodicals have its impressive early and long print run. Second, Niles allowed no advertising, which means every spare inch is taken up by useful content. Third, it is readable; the printed words are faded only in a few places per volume. Lastly, it is largely one man’s attempt at shaping the thought of his readership. Nonetheless, the value of the Weekly Register lies in its incredible wealth of information.
For example, an article series presented “An Analytical Review of the ‘Essay on the Principle of Population,’ by T.R. Malthus, A.M.” (Thomas Malthus was an eighteenth century Anglican minister. He proposed that population grows exponentially and agriculture grows linearly. Thus, as population size outstrips the food supply, ‘positive checks’ such as famine and disease will keep population levels at subsistence.) During the War of 1812, Niles editorialized the New England Convention that threatened secession. He regularly provided updates on Congressional decisions, domestic and foreign trade news, and political events as deemed appropriate. Sometimes there were even histories and biographies. Particularly remarkable, though, is the focus on transportation in relation to trade.
Near the long shelves of Niles’ Register, I discovered a monograph that would be helpful to anyone desiring a greater understanding. In one title, Niles’ Weekly Register: News Magazine of the Nineteenth Century (1947), author Norval Luxon provides a history of the publication, describing the periodical itself, Niles the editor, the character of news reporting and editorials, how the magazine portrayed political issues, and the long foresight of the editor in trade and sociopolitical matters such as slavery. Readers of the Weekly Register would benefit from the background knowledge from Luxon’s work, as they would become better able to use and appreciate the primary source material.
If you are interested in reliving the “events of the times” as told by Mr. Hezekiah Niles, this is the publication for you.