Justification is no longer necessary for the importance of research in Victorian periodicals, nor for the clear and very special window which periodicals offer into the life and thought of the nineteenth century. The pressing problem is how best to use the plethora of resource which exists, and how to render useful to the scholar the mountains of material which remain essentially un-catalogued. If we accept as a temporary definition of a Victorian periodical “a serial publication, issued more than once a year, part (at least) of whose run falls within the span 1824-1900,” we find documentation to show that at least 16,000 of these periodicals were published during the Victorian era, and it is by no means certain that that figure is exhaustive. Within this framework can be found every conceivable variety of opinion, debate, political posturing and social commentary. If one were able to select one year, say at mid-century, and sample from each of the 16,000 periodicals what a kaleidescopic glance into an era would be provided. Since this is neither practical nor likely to happen until the humanists' use of computer skills becomes more sophisticated, it remains for the literary and historical scholars to develop other means of mastering the diffuse, and at times elusive, material.
In the past twelve years a number of distinguished men and women, both in the United States and in England, have applied themselves to initial problems of periodical research and as a result there have been at least four outstanding milestones laid on the pathway. The first of these, the very prestigious accomplishment by Professor Walter E. Houghton, of Wellesley College, was the establishment of the 15-20 year project, The Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals (WI), the first volume of which appeared in 1966. (The second volume is projected for 1971, and the third for 1976, with the question of a fourth undecided.) This project was born about 1958, of Houghton's own frustration in trying to make use of periodicals while writing The Victorian Frame of Mind. As a result, he and his wife, Esther Rhoads Houghton, set out to provide a new tool to study Victorian men and ideas.