Harper’s Weekly

Seth Paradis
History 336
Primary Source Report
September 25, 2001


Harper's Weekly

1-Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, was the most popular illustrated newpaper of the nineteenth century. The magazine was aimed at the middle and upper socio-economic classes in the United States, aiming to print content suitable for the entire family. Harper's Weekly was most famous for its illustrations, which depicted nearly every facet of American life, from presidential elections to life on the Frontier. These illustrations were first included around the time of the Civil War, allowing Americans to "witness" the war as it unfolded with political cartoons and battlefield maps along with eyewitness reportings. These images and illustrations related directly to the editorial aspect of the magazine, which proved to be very influential to American culture. The papers held about sixteen 12" by 16" pages. Of these 16 pages, eight were used for the famous woodcut illustrations, leaving the remaining eight for news and commentary. These nonillustrated pages took the form of features, stories and editorials.

2-The magazine was created through the largest publishing company in the United States, Harper & Brothers. One of the brothers, Fletcher Harper, following the success of London Illustrated News, launched Harper's Monthly, edited by Henry Raymond. Early concentration focused content on established authors such as Charles Dickens and William Thackeray. The success of this publication lead to the creation of Harper's Weekly in 1857. Publication continued into the twentieth century until 1917. The readership of the weekly publication was boosted by the Civil War and reached 300,000 at its peak a few years later.

3-Trailing away from the initial established authors of its early days, Harper's Weekly employed a number of illustrators, reporters and authors. The most famous illustrator proves to be Thomas Nast, whose career with the paper began at age 18, with political cartoons and and caricatures. Being the popular paper in print at the time, the images Nast and other's depicted were often of political figures and those simply depicting American Culture. Also contributing to the paper was Winslow Homer. Following the boom of illustrative interest, Haper's Weekly was soon employing the most famous illustrators of the time, Frank Bellew, Charles Dana Gibson, Fred Repington, Howard Pyle, James M. Flagg and Maxfield Parrish. Following the turn of the century, Harper's Weekly changed its style and approach and was soon devoting more space to political and social issues and featured articles by political figures such as Carl Schurz, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson.

4-Bowdoin College currently holds volumes 5-33 and 40-62. Corresponding to the dates 1861-1889 and 1896-1916. It is located in the Special Collections section at the Hawthorne Longfellow Library and therefore is limited to in house use.

5-This source can prove somewhat difficult to use as Bowdoin does not have any direct access to the contents contained in its 65 volumes in terms of electronic indeces. There is a database established that is growing daily, available to purchase at www.harpweek.com. This site does contain many free features such as a Presidential Elections site. Also included at this internet site is a section on Political Prints and Cartoons, 1766-1876. Some colleges have useful sites dedicated to Harper's Weekly, such as the University of Michigan. This sites provides search options for the volume of Harper's Weekly from 1865, with more planned as they are digitized. As for use at Bowdoin, we are limited to the Special Collection section and to these websites for information. However, www.harpweek.com, while not a complete collections of the paper, does provide useful articles and more importantly quality illustrations.

6-Because of the paper's concentration on American Culture and its weekly publishing, Harper's Weekly provides important insight into the collective mind of the United States. The political cartoons are useful in guaging popular sentiment among the readership and the up to date reporting provides reports in close proximity to the event unlike earlier reportings. The paper is not only important in what it depicts in its pages in terms of American culture, perhaps more importantly Haper's Weekly was able to shape and influence American culture.