Connecting the dots
In June of this year, Mace Ojala (who wrote this excellent blog on his experiences working with us to develop our data model) introduced me to the list of MARC relator codes. It is an exhaustive list of the relationships that are possible between a person and a work. I have been trying (and failing) to find an example of a relationship between a person and one of our periodicals that is not somehow already listed as a MARC relator. Seriously, try it – it is an interesting exercise. I’m a big fan, because to me the list essentially reads like a catalog of all the wonderful and interesting professions and roles that go into making the periodical sphere. In the context of our database, MARC relators allow us to classify the relationships we encounter through a controlled vocabulary, stable signifiers that add clarity to our project.
Data clarity and stability are things we want to roll out across our database, for obvious reasons. But some of the things in periodical studies that are the most interesting are also the most challenging to represent in a formal model. Many of the periodicals we are looking at have a complicated publication history, and a stable vocabulary to describe them in terms of related data has not yet been developed; there is no equivalent to the MARC relators for relationships between periodicals. Matthew Brinton Tildesley, in the Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland (to give its full title) goes some way towards giving us the tools we need to discuss the complex and fuzzy processes behind the evolution of the periodical market in his excellent entries on “Title Changes” and “Mergers.” We could use these concepts to described connections between periodicals in our database by defining classifications along the lines of “title changed to” (and “title changed from”) and “merged with” (and “merged into”), but they lack precision as descriptors in the context of a database. This is clear from Tildesley’s entries. In his entry on “Mergers,” for example, Tildesley lists a number of reasons why periodicals might merge:
[M]ergers between journals were a constant feature of the nineteenth-century press, and occurred for a variety of reasons. A journal might be bought out and consumed by a rival, consolidated by joining with a like-minded publication, or splinter and regroup as the coterie behind a publication evolves over time. […][A]nother form of merger [is] […] two periodicals that were under the same ownership being merged into one by their proprietors […]Within the sphere of provincial and more specialized journals, mergers could, however, offer the chance of consolidating a weakening periodical and increasing its longevity.
“Merger,” then, is an umbrella term that includes very different things, and many if not all of these distinct scenarios are relevant to our interests. It matters, for instance, that the 1867 “merger” of the Scotsman and the Caledonian Mercury was a hostile takeover, and not an integration of two extant structures into a single new entity : the Scotsman’s proprietors bought out the competition without changing the contents or style of their own original periodical (Tildesley calls this move “technically a merger in terms of ownership.”)
And what to make of “Title Changes”? Tildesley writes:
Title changes are endemic within the world of nineteenth-century journalism. Variations within a given journal, such as changes of editor, publisher or principal contributors, and changes in the wider society to which a journal targets itself, such as class movement, increased wealth and the development of popular sciences, frequently lead to changes in title
The variations which Tildesley describes are the kind of relationships between publications that the WeChangEd database aims to capture, so while terms like mergers, title changes, and amalgamation (which is used by various contributors throughout the DNCJ) are valuable concepts to describe the complexities of a periodical’s publishing history in what I would call more narrative forms of scholarly output (articles, monographs, talks), they lack the precision required for relational categorization.
As we continue to populate the database, we are developing a controlled vocabulary to define the types of relationships between periodicals, a genealogy almost. But rather than tracing marriages between periodicals, identifying their offspring, chronicling their separations, and acknowledging their more distant relations, we’ll be dealing in categories that are not as imbued by metaphor. A (very preliminary) taste:
 Brake, Laurel, and Marysa Demoor. Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland. Gent: Academia Press, 2009. Print.
 Tildesley, Matthew Brinton. “Mergers.” in Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland. Laurel Brake and Marysa Demoor (eds.), 2009. p. 409. Print.
 Tildesley, Matthew Brinton. “Title Changes.” in Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland. Laurel Brake and Marysa Demoor (eds.), 2009. p. 630-31. Print.