The usefulness of this exercise becomes obvious once you start. It’s also fairly easy to do. Find a journal that interests you. Read the most recent issue. Outline the past year’s contents. Scan the past five years and note down patterns in the topic and method of the articles published within its pages. If it’s available, look at the first issue, which is often the founding issue where the journal’s editors establish its perspective and program. Is it your sense that the journal has continued with its original trajectory, or has it moved away at some point?
Your journal profile will consist of the following:
* **Summary of four articles** from the most recent issue. (Make sure you note if the journal is up to date or if it is running behind). For some journals, like _Southern Folklore_, this will be all the articles in a particular issue of a journal; for others, like _American Literary History_, you are free to choose from the articles listed which ones you would like to read and summarize.
* **Outline of the past year’s contents**. You will want to include author’s names and the complete title of the article, but you do not need to include notes, reviews, or other such matters—unless, of course, they seem of particular importance in your ability to characterize the journal. Again mileage varies here by journal: i.e., for some journals this will be a short task; for others, much longer and more involved.
* **Five-year scansion**. Scanning the past five year’s of the journal, what are the general trends in topics or approaches that you notice? Are there a particular set of contributors who seem to have dominated the journal at a particular moment? What about works in the bibliographies. (This is something you should consider doing in your outline of the past year: what scholarship matters to the journal’s editors and readers.)
* **First/foundational issue**. These are always interesting to examine. I have included the opening pages of the first issue of JAF, which sets out a kind of program. We will have time this semester to discuss the scope and nature of the original program and how it has been realized and/or changed over the past one hundred years of JAF’s publication.
* **Conclusions**. Nothing grand here, unless you notice some interesting developments: e.g., a break between the foundation and the most recent issues of the journal, a sudden change in the journal’s path. Or perhaps everything has remained as the original editor’s imagined. You should also take some time to evaluate the journal in relationship to your own interests and to those fields in which you participate or would like to participate.