- Introducing Magazines and/as Media:The Aesthetics and Politics of Serial Form
The newness of periodical studies?
In her recent book on the ongoing relationship between modernism and media, Jessica Pressman makes the convincing claim that modernism—as a “strategy of innovation that employs the media of its time to reform and refashion older literary practices in ways that produce new art”—is “centrally about media” (3–4 emphasis added). Pressman is not the first to link modernist aesthetic innovation to the rapid transformation of media technologies at the turn of the twentieth century; she identifies her indebtedness to media scholars including Friedrich Kittler, Lev Manovich, and Marshall McLuhan, all of whom engage with the new discourse networks afforded by the rise of phonographs, radio, and cinema. She also echoes the work of scholars like Ann Ardis, who argued in 2013 that the turn of the twentieth century is a period of “media in transition,” characterized by a complex “media ecology” that demands “scrupulous attention to both the materiality of print and its intermedial relationships with other communication technologies” (“Towards” 1). While Pressman leaves it out, Ardis and many other scholars make a point of including the periodical press in this media ecology and as part of “the still broader field of ‘print [End Page 1] culture studies,’ a post-disciplinary re-orientation that Victorianists have staged very productively over the last ten to fifteen years” (“Towards” 2).
Debates over how periodicals mediate their content—and how we, as scholars, inevitably remediate them—have been a central tenet of the field since at least 1989, when Margaret Beetham pointed out that the archival practice of stripping out advertisements and binding periodical issues into volumes changes their meaning as objects of study (97). Similarly, Beetham’s attention to television as a parallel medium, helpful for thinking through the dynamics of seriality, signals that media theory has long been central to the theorization of the periodical as a form. Thus, when Sean Latham and Robert Scholes announced in 2006 that the new field of “modern periodical studies” would be characterized by both an increased scholarly interest in periodicals as “autonomous objects of study” and the “still-emergent field[’s] … aggressive use of digital media” (517–18), their oft-cited article pointed both forward to a reinvigorating of the field and back to the field’s long continuities.
Periodical studies—as a field that insists on the value of reading across full issues and multi-year runs of serial texts rather than cherry-picking individual items—has indeed benefited from the increase in large-scale digitization projects that make rare periodical titles widely available. The twenty-year-old Modernist Journals Project (mjp) (modjourn.org) is responsible for a variety of important initiatives, such as the digitization of full magazine runs that include advertising as well as covers—paratextual material often stripped away during the process of archivization and thus difficult to locate but central to our understanding of magazines as a medium. The mjp has been joined by a variety of other digitization initiatives. Even the briefest survey of these projects demonstrates their historical and aesthetic range. The uk-based Modernist Magazines Project (modernistmagazines.com) joined the rosters in 2006, followed in 2011 by The Pulp Magazines Project (pulpmags.org). Starting in 2009, the Chinese Women’s Magazines project (womag.uni-hd.de) has been developing a database of popular women’s magazines published between 1904 and 1937. In 2012 The Yellow Nineties (1890s.ca) launched, offering open-access digital facsimiles of the “avant-garde aesthetic periodicals that flourished in Great Britain at the fin-de-siècle.” Between 2011 and 2013 Magazines, Travel, and Middlebrow Culture in Canada 1925–1960 (middlebrowcanada.org) created a searchable catalogue derived from the tables of contents of selected Canadian middlebrow magazines;1 in 2014 Modern Magazines [End Page 2] Project Canada (modmag.ca) continued the work on Canadian household magazines by collaborating with the University of Alberta Libraries Digital Initiatives to digitize the complete thirty-two-year run of The Western Home Monthly, the largest single magazine digitization project to date.2
Digitization has also...