MHQ is in its twentieth year of publication. On the surface its longevity may not seem impressive, but in the American magazine business, The Quarterly Journal of Military History has lasted longer than most. The first such periodical, Andrew Bradford’s The American Magazine, appeared in 1741. Three days later, the second, Benjamin Franklin’s The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, appeared. The American lasted for three issues. Franklin did better. He managed to publish six issues before his creation disappeared in a sea of red ink.
Today, little has changed. Peter Carlson, an expert magazine watcher, recently said,“The life span of the average magazine is somewhere between that of a fruit fly and a dachshund.” Compared to the rest in this category of the nation’s print media, our twenty years is surely a respectable run. While many magazines still fail early on, Americans continue to buy millions of them, despite a torrent of competing media.
George Washington would be pleased. In 1788 he wrote to a Philadelphia publisher, saying he hoped magazines would be successful in the country: “I consider such easy vehicles of knowledge more happily calculated than any other, to preserve the liberty, stimulate the industry, and meliorate the morals of an enlightened and free people.”
Magazines continue to be popular for several reasons. It takes a long time to read a book. Newspapers have the advantage of immediacy, but they present incomplete descriptions of ongoing events or the opinions of selected pundits. What’s current today will inevitably be overtaken by tomorrow’s news.
More often than not, the Internet provides what has previously been written in a newspaper, magazine, or book. The magazine, unlike the newspaper but like the book, usually presents original stories, accounts that not only answer the questions who, what, where, when, and how, but give a studied answer to the most vexing question: why? Magazines periodically present updated content, combining thoughtful, original material with some degree of immediacy.
Magazines normally present a variety of subject matter. In addition, they have another attraction. Asked a few years ago why anyone would choose a magazine over newspapers, TV, radio, or the Internet, Walter Isaacson, managing editor of Time magazine, said, “Because magazines stick to the ribs and get people thinking.”
Individual magazines come and go, but as a media class they are not likely to fade away any time soon. This issue contains a variety of original stories about momentous, sometimes perilous events from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. We hope you will find them both satisfying and thought-provoking.
Originally published in the Spring 2008 issue of Military History Quarterly. To subscribe, click here.