This morning's book work reminded me yet again how some research resources are simply so fabulous and amazing and useful and indispensable that a girl just has to blog about them. So, to launch what may become an occasional series of encomia to my favorite research resources, let's talk about why I Heart Frank Luther Mott.
Frank Luther Mott (biographical basics here) is the author of the masterful five-volume A History of American Magazines, 1741-1930, a study so fabulous that it is still in print even though the first volume was published in 1930 and the last, posthumously, in 1968. For those of us interested in tracking American rhetoric as it circulated publicly in print, it is the single best informational resource on American periodicals that you will find. In addition to offering information on the contents of magazines during each period (want to know how magazines handled "the woman question"? volumes 2 and 4 have nice chapters), Mott's volumes help the reader understand how magazines in different periods were edited, published, and circulated, making them indispensable for historical stage-setting.
My favorite way to use Mott is the way that I was using him this morning: as a resource for finding information about specific magazines. In my book's introduction I begin with a humorous story about photography that circulated widely in several different American magazines. Wanting to know exactly how diverse this wide circulation was in terms of audiences, I turned to Mott. I discovered that the Christian Union was founded by Henry Ward Beecher in 1870 as a "general family periodical." I discovered that in the 1890s Outlook magazine not only published Booker T. Washington's Up From Slavery but also hired Teddy Roosevelt as a special correspondent after he left the presidency. And I discovered that Life (not that one) was The Onion of its time, right down to its Harvard-educated writers. None of this may matter to you, but it helped me figure out a few things this morning. (And thumbs up to Vanderbilt's Library for having all five volumes available to me via e-book!)
Mott certainly isn't the only place one should go -- I am sure there are gaps in his coverage and focus -- and certainly lots of other scholars have done excellent work on the history of American magazines. But his volumes are the place to start.
I Heart You, Frank Luther Mott!