The Good: Informative, No advertisements, Well-researched
The Bad: Exceptionally esoteric
The Basics: A very educated, but incredibly specific magazine, New York Archives establishes itself as an authority in New York State history…for those who are interested.
I have no specific knowledge of New York state history from the 1800s, so reading through a few issues of New York Archives truly opened my eyes.
New York Archives is an exceptionally specific magazine that seems geared toward people like Civil War enthusiasts who both collect memorabilia and know all of the details about very minor players from that era of American history. I read three issues at my local library, but I’m going through the Winter 2009 issue for details for the purpose of the review. Each issue of this magazine, published quarterly, bears a $4.95 cover price and is printed on a satin sheen paper (not fully glossy). While the magazine has the ability to print color – it does so in the trim on most of the pages – it is very much a black and white and sepia and white magazine for both the photography and the writing.
With only 48 pages per issue, New York Archives is a publication of the Archives Partnership Trust, which seems devoted to preserving and restoring antiquities in New York State. The publication features expert guest writers in each issue writing on the theme of that issue, as well as a dedicated staff of experts in the field who are regular contributors. Like most magazines, there are regular departments and features. Features follow a common theme, like Abraham Lincoln in New York for the Winter 2009 issue.
Regular columns include a pretty standard letter from the editor, a few pages detailing this month’s contributors, detailing of a collection of a New Yorker (Archives Around New York), In Their Own Words (which unearths and preserves old manuscripts) and a photograph. Each month, these regular columns establish the writers of New York Archives as experts and explore the various elements of historical preservation. Notably absent from the magazine are letters to the magazine with follow-up to prior articles and issues. When the magazine features a guest editor, they take over the note from the editor section and establish their chops and the theme of the magazine. The writing in the regular columns is very thorough, erudite and backed up with photographs when possible. So, for example, when collecting old personal correspondences, the “In Their Own Words” writers transcribe what is written on old papers, but also include photographs of the old sheets, even in their dilapidated conditions! One of the very interesting things about the “In Their Own Words” section is that the writers explain the context to letters as well as detail idioms specific to both the time and place. This makes the column the most consistently interesting monthly column in the publication.
As for the features, this is hit or miss depending upon the topic of the issue. So, for example eight different articles taking up almost forty pages of magazine on the subject of Abraham Lincoln’s visits to New York State might be fascinating reading, but are very dry for most readers. Articles in the current issue focus on Abraham Lincoln’s appearances in the state capital, West Point, New York City and even Mrs. Lincoln’s shopping habits when she visited the state! What the magazine has in spades is detail and a high level of diction. This is a very specific magazine that is written by educated people for educated and interested readers. It has a realistic and fairly balanced view of the past – though there is a bias toward New York State (obviously!) – while utilizing modern methodology for logic and assertions about more controversial assertions the magazine makes.
Most readers, however, will find they either are interested or not: that this is not a great publication for swaying those who aren’t interested in 19th Century (and before) New York State. Ultimately, I give it a very soft “recommend” because it is exceptionally informative and well-written, even if the subject is quite scholarly and the magazine is short for its cover price. This seems, largely, like a magazine academics publish their papers in and fellow academics read, but not very accessible to those outside that culture. This is the sort of magazine that will someday have all its information on very specific websites. Until then, New York Archives makes for dense, informative reading about those who are very into New York State history!
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© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.