The North American Review: A Pillar of American Intellectual and Literary History


The North American Review (NAR), established in 1815, is one of the oldest and most prestigious literary magazines in the United States. Its history reflects the evolution of American thought, literature, and culture. The magazine has played a significant role in shaping public discourse and providing a platform for some of the most influential writers, thinkers, and critics in American history.

Historical Background

The North American Review was founded in Boston by Nathan Hale and others with the intention of creating a publication that would contribute to the intellectual and cultural growth of the young nation. The early issues focused on a variety of topics including politics, economics, science, and literature. The magazine aimed to emulate the quality of European publications, thereby fostering a sense of intellectual independence in the United States.

Contributions to American Literature

Over its long history, the North American Review has published works by many of America’s greatest writers. Early contributors included luminaries such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Edgar Allan Poe. These writers used the magazine as a forum to discuss and promote the burgeoning American literary tradition.

Emerson, for instance, published several essays in the NAR that were instrumental in the development of Transcendentalism. His works encouraged Americans to trust their intuition and to see the divine in the everyday world. Similarly, Longfellow’s poems and literary criticism helped to shape the national literary voice, contributing to the cultural identity of the United States.

North American Review June 1885


Political and Social Commentary

The North American Review has also been a significant platform for political and social commentary. Throughout the 19th century, the magazine addressed critical issues such as slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. It provided a space for intellectuals and policymakers to debate and articulate their views on the pressing issues of the day.

During the Civil War, the NAR was a strong advocate for the Union cause and abolitionism. It published numerous articles that discussed the moral and economic implications of slavery, influencing public opinion and policy. Post-war, the magazine continued to explore themes of national identity, civil rights, and social justice, reflecting the ongoing struggles and transformations within American society.

Cultural Impact and Evolution

As the United States moved into the 20th century, the North American Review continued to adapt to changing cultural landscapes. The magazine remained a vital outlet for literary and intellectual discourse, publishing works by authors such as William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and John Steinbeck. These contributions highlighted the complexities of modern American life, exploring themes of disillusionment, identity, and social change.

In addition to fiction and poetry, the NAR featured critical essays that examined contemporary art, philosophy, and science. This interdisciplinary approach ensured that the magazine remained relevant and influential across a broad spectrum of intellectual pursuits.

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Revival and Modern Relevance

Despite facing financial difficulties and changes in ownership, the North American Review has managed to endure and evolve. In the latter part of the 20th century, the magazine was revived and is now published by the University of Northern Iowa. This revival has allowed the NAR to continue its tradition of fostering intellectual and literary excellence.

Today, the North American Review maintains its commitment to publishing high-quality fiction, poetry, and essays. It serves as a bridge between the rich literary heritage of the past and the dynamic voices of the present. The magazine’s ongoing dedication to exploring diverse perspectives and promoting thoughtful discourse ensures its continued relevance in the contemporary literary landscape.

Final Thoughts

The North American Review stands as a testament to the enduring power of the written word and its ability to shape and reflect society. Through its pages, readers can trace the intellectual and cultural evolution of the United States, gaining insights into the minds of some of the most influential figures in American history. As it continues to publish new and innovative works, the North American Review remains a vital part of the American literary tradition, inspiring and challenging readers to engage with the world around them.

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