Exploring the origins of the magazine and its ’90s Renaissance
The latter half of the 19th century was a fertile time for Columbia journalism. An anonymous satirical publication called the Columbiana had sprouted up in the 1850’s but was shut down by faculty who found its content disagreeable. In 1869, a monthly publication called the Cap and Gown came into being, which published reporting on campus affairs and writing by students. Another anonymous satirical paper called Facta Columbinaria sprang up in 1864 to parody the Cap and Gown, then known as the Acta Columbiana. This paper was, however, reportedly so libelous that it ceased publication only two issues later. Due to in fi among editors in 1877, several students left the Acta Columbiana to form the Columbia Spectator, spurring a powerful rivalry that would last until Acta dissolved in 1885. Two publications, The Phonograph and The Week, emerged in 1879. The former was a four-page sheet that died after two editions. The latter published strictly news and proclaimed “Richard Roe and John Doe” its editors. A number of publications associated with the graduate schools were established. And fi in 1890, two others of a more literary nature were founded by underclassmen: The Columbia News and The Blue and White.
The first several issues of The Blue and White were published every one-to-two weeks in a broadsheet format that strongly resembled, cough, Spec’s. They were four pages long and contained primarily campus news: information about upcoming events, updates from the various academic departments and happenings at Barnard; athletic updates, especially on the football and rowing teams; athletic and social events transpiring at the other Ivy League and Seven Sisters schools; some creative writing; and several advertisements.
For its fifteenth issue published on March 4, 1891, The Blue and White debuted a new journal-sized format and blue ink for all images and text. Sydney H. Treat, CC 1893, wrote in the introduction:
It gives us great pleasure to greet our fellow collegians this issue, with our new form, yet we hope not with any new departure from our aims and aspirations… We started out with the distinct and only purpose of giving bright and newsy items, which are of interest to all of us, combined with truthful comments on the same, in order to show clearly the exact tone of the College each week. We thought that, if by concerted effort and a spirited display of College feeling we could extend the influence of Columbia in any way or raise her to the position which she owns by right of the associations clustered around her name, our work would be accomplished.
Following the makeover, The Blue and White began to flourish. The cover, ornately decorated and emblazoned with thick, illustrated script, lent a quirkiness to the visual presentation of the issue that the newspaper format had never achieved. Inside, the typical class notes and athletic updates remained unchanged, but there were additions. For example, a certain fictitious classmate named Verily Veritas, decidedly more pleasant than the one who graces the pages of this issue, offered humorous anecdotes and sage advice. Delicate illustrations and a larger text size increased the aesthetic appeal and readability of the pages. Poems appeared under a “Measure for Measure” section and were interspersed throughout the issue, some authored by spoofy characters like “Bingo” and “Lord Byron,” like these below from 1892 editions, and others by probably more earnest students.
“I wish I were a bird,” is sung Throughout the livelong day.
“Just so;” replies each neighbor’s tongue.
“In winter, then. you’d y away.”
Ah, it is spring
Great spring it is now
Great, great spring—
—Basho, translated by Krusty
And yet, by 1893, the publication had folded. The archives of The Blue and White and the Spectator provide little insight into why. It could only have been for reasons similar to why others went dormant: creative differences causing students to leave; leadership graduating without finding enough underclassmen to carry on their work; an offensive line that might incurred the wrath of a powerful administrator, sponsor or fellow student; or the allure of other publications.
In their introduction to the inaugural May 1998 issue, the editors explained how they came to the idea of reviving the magazine:
One spring afternoon last year, our publisher ventured into “Columbiana,” home to a collection of Columbia documents. Amid its dusty volumes lay a history of Columbia composed in 1914 by the Columbia librarian of that time.
Pouring through this history, our publisher arrived at an account of Columbia’s publications….Amid Spectator news and Philolexian debates, The B&W gave voice to an intangible Columbia spirit: transcriptions of invaluable lectures, professors’ valuable words, thoughts of students, poetic and critical, and College happenings snared by astute eyes and retold by talkative tongues. Delivered with wit worthy of frothy beer and intellection worthy of good discussion, The B&W provided a forum for College conversations of all kind.
The triumphal resurrection of The B&W attempts to capture its ancestor’s spirit, its light feel and weighty goals, while fusing it with a campus situated scores of blocks uptown a world aged one century. We hope to share, each month, a slice of Columbia always present but rarely seen by all.
The May 1998 reincarnation introduced precedents for future issues that are still evident today. The cover and page count were similar to its predecessor’s, though they would in later editions come to be subject to alternations in each issue. The Campus Gossip spoke of subjects just a bit more interesting than its predecessor’s penchant for modest adjustments professors were planning to make to classes and whatever drama ensued between the white boys on the crew team. Measure for Measure published a series of astonishing poems by then-Barnard undergrad Alicia Rabins. Verily Veritas was alive, well and speaking in first person but more similar in temperament to the grumpy figure that we celebrate in our recent issues. Blue J., the progenitor of The B&W’s Blue Notes and Travel Desk sections, made the transition. That series was narrated by a bird who traveled around campus and through various parts of New York City.
The second issue released in October of that year, contained more fiction and debuted a multi-issue series on the Core, the first installment of which was penned by Asian studies Professor Wm. Theodore DeBary, CC ’41, who wrote at length about how Columbia might imbue the Core with multiculturalism without veering into Orientalist territory.
The following issues began to thicken and introduce new sections. “Columbia Conversations” was introduced in the March 1999 as “a running dialogue on matters concerning the college community between Professor Austin Quigley, Dean of Columbia College, members of The B&W, and students directly related to the topic.” Others, like Digitalia and Blue Notes, became mainstays as Blue J. was phased out. Gossip got juicier. Verily became more of a dick.
These evolutions bespoke an openness to experimentation that allowed for moving gestures that would be more out-of-place at strictly news publications, like the open letters to family members of staff writers, still reeling from the events of 9/11, that were published in the November 2001 issue, which are really worth a read. (You can nd that issue and others on here on our website, theblueandwhite.org.)