The British Journal of Social Work (BJSW) has played a significant role in the development of social work as a practice and discipline for over forty years. For the first three decades of its life, the BJSW was the only prominent social work journal published out of the UK and thus is a ‘journal of record’, holding a mirror to the profession. As such, the BJSW has a rich depository of data, which not only tell the story of the journal itself, but contribute significantly to the narrative of social work as an ever-changing field. In this article, we aim to illuminate certain aspects of this narrative by presenting some of the findings from a multiple method historical case study on the BJSW, focusing on the first forty years of the journal. Data consisted of archival records, oral histories and analysis of journal content for the last full year of each of eleven editorial regimes. Here, we foreground the content analysis, giving particular emphasis to evidence regarding trends. We place these findings in the context of social work as a field, and relate them to the projected identity of the journal and to the broader identity of social work.