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New Online Journal Offers Daily Dips Into JSTOR’s Deep Archive

A 1931 analysis of Herman Melville’s posthumous literary reputation doesn’t exactly scream headline news in 2014. But that essay, published decades ago in the journal American Literature by O.W. Riegel, got a new lease on life this week, thanks to an online journal, JSTOR Daily, that made its official debut on Wednesday.

The idea is to create a publication “that bridges the gap between news and scholarship,” says Catherine Halley, the new journal’s editor. That means turning smart writers loose on topics that intrigue them and letting them draw on JSTOR’s deep historical archive of journal articles as they explore those subjects. (JSTOR is a subscription-driven nonprofit digital library of scholarly journals, books, and other content.)

“We’re trying to find the stories that animate the JSTOR library,” Ms. Halley says.

For instance, one contributor, Matthew Wills, used Riegel’s 1931 essay as the jumping-off point for a short piece—published on September 28, the anniversary of Melville’s death—that complicates the usual story we hear about the novelist’s literary death and revival. Riegel’s essay, he says, is “a fine piece of scholarship, with a bit of bite.”

Mr. Wills writes:

Riegel finds the original reviews of Melville’s work, notes the differences of opinion between American and British critics, and charts the multiple revivals of Melville’s reputation during his life and after, culminating in the boom of the 1920s.

When published, for instance, “Pierre” was savaged not so much from a “lack of comprehension in the critics as from a dislike for the philosophy which they understood only too well.”

Ms. Halley was digital director at the Poetry Foundation before she joined JSTOR to work on the new journal. She’s already getting pitches from a variety of writers—current and former academics as well as journalists, creative writers, and librarians.

“I’m tapping all of my lapsed-academic sources,” she says. “I’m interested in good stories, wherever they come from. I’m interested in someone who knows how to draw a reader in.”

Aimed at general readers, the journal mixes shorter blog posts with longer reads, grouped into broad categories: Arts & Culture, Business & Economics, Science & Environment, and so on. The Civil War historian Megan Kate Nelson is writing a weekly column about historical and archival research. A specialist in green building design contributed a link-rich essay about why we need to get outside more.

Offbeat and lighter takes on scholarship are welcome. “The quirkiness is what’s a strength here,” the editor says. “We’re trying to cast a wide net here and be really eclectic,” sort of in the spirit of the Los Angeles Review of Books and The Conversation.

JSTOR Daily is free to read, as are the JSTOR articles it links to. (Ms. Halley considers it “an extension of JSTOR’s mission to preserve and expand access to scholarship.”) Prospective contributors (see submission guidelines here) will be glad to know that the journal pays its writers, though Ms. Halley won’t say exactly how much. “We don’t pay what glossies pay,” she says, “but it’s very respectable.”

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