The Wilson Quarterly

wilson quarterly

The Wilson Quarterly is a magazine published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. The magazine was founded in 1976 by journalist Peter Braestrup and James H. Billington, the thirteenth Librarian of the United States Congress. The ‘Quarterly’ is noted for its nonpartisan, nonideological approach to current issues, with articles written from various perspectives.

Designed to make the research and debates of scholars and intellectuals accessible to a general audience, it covers a wide range of topics, from science policy and literature to foreign affairs. In 2012, the ‘Quarterly’ changed to a digital-only publishing model.

The debut issue in 1976 established two of the magazine’s signature features. Article ‘clusters’ explore different facets of a subject, often with contrasting points of view. Early subjects ranged from the exploration of space to the new revisionist history of the New Deal; The ‘In Essence’ section, which distills more than two dozen notable articles selected from hundreds of scholarly journals and specialized publications. When Peter Braestrup left the ‘Quarterly’ in 1989 to join Billington at the Library of Congress (where he was instrumental in launching the short-lived but critically acclaimed ‘Civilization’ magazine), he was succeeded by Jay Tolson, the magazine’s literary editor, who added a successful poetry section designed to introduce readers to significant poets of the past and present.

The magazine continued to focus on public questions, exemplified by the 1998 cluster ‘Is Everything Relative?’ with articles debating biologist E.O. Wilson’s claim in his book ‘Consilience’ that all branches of knowledge will eventually be unified by a biological understanding of human life. In ‘The Second Coming of the American Small Town’ in 1992, Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk offered an early in-depth look at the New Urbanism and some of the animating ideas behind ‘Smart Growth.’ When Tolson left to become a senior writer at ‘U.S. News & World Report’ in 1999, Steven Lagerfeld was named editor. Lagerfeld had also worked under founding editor Peter Braestrup, joining the staff in 1981.

In keeping with the times and the focus of the parent Woodrow Wilson Center, the magazine looked increasingly overseas, filling the period around the beginning of the Iraq war with distinctive clusters on American empire, foreign writers’ views of the United States, the history of Iraq, and World War IV. Other topics have ranged from the role of competition in American life to the ideas of traffic ‘guru’ Hans Monderman. Recent writers have spanned the spectrum from conservative economist and blogger Tyler Cowen to liberal political thinker Benjamin Barber.


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