“The Pressure of Military Service”: The Great War’s Impact on Scholarly Editing Projects
21 November 2018 by Grayson Van Beuren

19th Century Masterfile | 20th Century | American Studies | European Studies | History


The First World War affected the world in profound and irrevocable ways, not least the field of literature. The impact of the Great War on literature has been well-documented, both in terms of how changes in outlook were reflected in the books, poems, short stories, and articles produced by during and after the war, and in terms of the generation of authors destroyed by mechanized warfare on a large scale.1

Perhaps less-studied is how the war’s effect reached the publishing industry itself, even percolating into the processes of indexing and cataloguing. Here we will look at the effect World War I had on three well-known and well-used indexes of the early twentieth century: the Psychological Index, the Annual Magazine Subject Index, and the Catalogue of Scientific Papers: Subject Indexes.

Title page of the first Psychological Index volume.The first, the Psychological Index, made it through the war intact, albeit saw its activities disrupted. Begun in 1895, the Index was an attempt to provide a yearly bibliography of literature in the still nascent field of psychology. It was an early offshoot of the journal, Psychological Review, and was initially edited by Review co-founders James Mark Baldwin and James McKean Cattell—both foundational figures in the field of American psychology. The Index was designed to make a rapidly-expanding field accessible and manageable to members of the scientific community.2 It indexed on average 5,000 titles and roughly 350 periodicals each year.3

Starting in 1914, the Index compilers began reporting slowdowns caused by the outbreak of world war. Though the United States—home of the Index and its creators—had not yet entered the war, many of the contained articles came from journals published in European countries embroiled in conflict. Compiler Howard Warren acknowledged the war’s effects in his “Editorial Note” in the 1914 Index, assuring his readers that…

The temporary suspension of certain European journals is largely responsible for the decreased number of titles included in the Index this year, and conditions abroad have delayed the publication.4

"[...] conditions abroad have delayed the publication."

After the initial year of conflict, it appears the compilers were able to make editorial headway against the tide of delays. Madison Bentley, who picked up the task of compiling in 1915, promised his readers that year that “titles omitted by necessity from this volume will be included next year.”5 By 1917, Bentley reported the “unfavorable conditions which surrounded the compilation of the last number of the Index were this year somewhat improved,” a sentiment on which the next compiler, Christian A. Ruckmich, expounded the year after that in 1918.6

In addition to the journal shortages caused by the war, the conflict caused a shortage of able foreign cooperators owing to the universal push to enlist more soldiers. In his Editorial Note for 1918, compiler Ruckmich mentions in passing that…

[…] many of our collaborators found the pressure of military service so great that the work of collecting titles grew difficult or impossible.7

The Psych Index did ultimately recover from the effects of WWI, running annually until finally folding on the eve of the Second World War in 1936.8

Frederick Faxon with librarians at ALA Conference.The Annual Magazine Subject Index (or AMSI) was a niche periodical index created in 1907 by Frederick Faxon of the Boston Book Company. Faxon created his index to fill the gaps left by other larger indexes like the Annual Library Index and the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature, indexing periodicals considered not important or wide-spread enough to be worth including in those behemoths.9

The First World War appears to have affected the AMSI less profoundly than it did the Psych Index. AMSI creator Frederick Faxon only briefly mentioned the war in passing in his preface to the index covering 1916—making note of special editions of magazines concerning war correspondence with no connection to the activity of indexing—having been silent on the point up until then.10

In the 1917 preface, Faxon makes mention of periodicals that ceased production during the conflict (“Print Collector’s Quarterly has suspended, at least for the period of the war”).11 It is only in the preface to the volume covering the last year of the war, 1918, that Faxon let on that any AMSI activities had been disrupted. As he writes in that preface in July 1919, the war’s effect was primarily one of supply shortage:

We hope to be forgiven for the very late issue of this volume. The war restrictions, and conditions last November when copy is usually prepared for the printer, made it impossible to go on with the publication, but during the early months of 1919 we were encouraged to proceed with the work, and hope in future to have our volumes appear in early spring.12

This lessened severity of the impact of the war could be tied to several causes. First, the AMSI cataloged a comparatively smaller pool of periodicals. As its entire mission was one of “filling the gaps”—indexing the periodicals that did not appear in the larger indexes—it looked at a relatively limited window of periodicals by design.13

[...] the AMSI was well-insulated against the effects of the Great War.

Secondly, the AMSI was mainly an English-language index. The periodicals indexed therein primarily came from the United States, though Faxon did boast of a high degree of completeness in the field of British popular periodicals as well.14 In any case, compared to the Psych Index which indexed a large number of periodicals coming out of the conflict-ridden areas of Germany, France, and Italy, the AMSI was well-insulated against the effects of the Great War.

The AMSI ran until 1949, surviving both the Second World War as well as the First.

Seal of the Royal Society of London.Finally, the Catalogue of Scientific Papers: Subject Indexes (CSI:SI)—a publication profoundly impacted by the war. True to their name, the CSI:SI were a set of companion subject indexes to the Royal Society of London’s monumental Catalogue of Scientific Papers (CSP). The CSP covered the period of 1800 to 1900 and represented the first real effort to catalogue the literature of science as a whole. However, one flaw of the CSP was its adherence to a scheme of sorting by title and author, making specific subject-driven research difficult to accomplish.15

Alleviating this problem was the goal of the CSP:SI. The original plan called for seventeen subject volumes in total, one for each subject heading used by the successor CSP index, the International Catalogue of Scientific Literature:

Mathematics, Mechanics, Physics, Chemistry, Astronomy, Meteorology, Mineralogy, Geology, Geography, Palaeontology, Biology, Botany, Zoology, Anatomy, Anthropology, Physiology, and Bacteriology.16

Royal Society editors began compiling material for the first CSP:SI volume, “Pure Mathematics,” in 1898 and published the volume ten years later in 1908.  It was the first of four such volumes that would appear from 1908 until 1914: “Pure Mathematics” (1908), “Mechanics” (1909), “Physics Part I: Generalities, Heat, Light, Sound” (1912), and “Physics Part II: Electricity and Magnetism” (1914).

Unfortunately, the set stopped at this fourth volume; the project ended prematurely due to World War I leaving the majority of planned scientific fields unindexed. Unlike the Psych Index and the AMSI—both indexes produced in the United States—the CSI:SI project was undertaken in London. The closeness of the war spelled doom for the project and the CS:SI were never resumed.



Users of 19th Century Masterfile: 1106 – 1930 can access entries from the Psychology Index, Annual Magazine Subject Index, and Catalogue of Scientific Papers: Subject Indexes. Check your institution’s database subscriptions to find if you have access to 19th Century Masterfile, or sign up for a free trial at https://public.paratext.com/customer/.


[1] Jay Murray Winter, The Experience of World War I (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 226 – 229.

[2] The Catalogue of Scientific Papers is available to search in 19th Century Masterfile. Users of 19th Century Masterfile can access the source description for more information.

[3] Eugene Sheehy, ed., Guide to Reference Books, 10th ed. (Chicago and London: American Library Association, 1986), 727.

[4] Howard C. Warren, ed., “Editorial Note” in The Psychology Index No. 21, Index for the Year 1914 (Lancaster, PA: Psychological Review Company, 1915), iii.

[5] Madison Bentley, ed., “Editorial Note” in Psychology Index No. 22, Index for the Year 1915 (Lancaster, PA: Psychological Review Company, 1916), iii.

[6] Madison Bentley, ed., “Editorial Note” in Psychology Index No. 23, Index for the Year 1916 (Lancaster, PA: Psychological Review Company, 1917), iii; Christian A. Ruckmich, ed., “Editorial Note” in Psychology Index No. 24, Index for the Year 1917 (Lancaster, PA: Psychological Review Company, 1918), iii.

[7] Christian A. Ruckmich, ed., “Editorial Note” in Psychology Index No. 25, Index for the Year 1918 (Lancaster, PA: Psychological Review Company, 1919), iii.

[8] Sheehy, 727.

[9] Frederick W. Faxon, ed., “Preface to Magazine Subject-Index” in Annual Magazine Subject-Index 1910 (Boston: The Boston Book Company, 1911), 10.

[10] Frederick W. Faxon, ed., “Preface to Magazine Subject-Index” in Annual Magazine Subject-Index 1916 (Boston: The Boston Book Company, 1917), 5 – 6.

[11] Frederick W. Faxon, ed., “Preface to Magazine Subject-Index” in Annual Magazine Subject-Index 1917 (Boston: The Boston Book Company, 1918), 6 – 7.

[12] Frederick W. Faxon, ed., “Preface to Magazine Subject-Index, 1918” in Annual Magazine Subject-Index 1918 (Boston: The F. W. Faxon Company, 1919), 4 – 5.

[13] Faxon, 1910, 10.

[14] Faxon quite literally boasted of this fact, stating in his preface to the 1911 index: “ours is the only index covering the popular periodicals of Great Britain.” Frederick W. Faxon, ed., “Preface to Magazine Subject-Index” in Annual Magazine Subject-Index 1911 (Boston: The Boston Book Company, 1912), 8.

[15] The CSP is a fascinating publication which forever changed the field of scientific publishing. For more information, the CSP is discussed at greater length in another Paratexting blog post, “Sources as Windows to Narrative: Periodical Indexes – Harder to Access, Highly Insightful.”

[16] The volume on physics had to be published in two parts due to its great size, so in reality there would have probably been more than seventeen volumes. “Preface,” Catalogue of Scientific Papers 1800 – 1900 Subject Index Volume I Pure Mathematics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1908), v; “Preface” in Royal Society of London Catalogue of Scientific Papers 1800 – 1900 Subject Index Volume III Physics Part I Generalities, Heat, Light, Sound (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1912), v.

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