- IntroductionMagazines and/as Media: Periodical Studies and The Question of Disciplinarity
periodical studies as media studies
In the opening article of this special issue, Patrick Collier asks whether a thing called “modern periodical studies” exists, and he turns to the Journal of Modern Periodical Studies itself to find an answer. Appearing in the pages of the very journal that articulates the existence of such a field, this question may seem purely rhetorical. It is certainly timely: a moment of pause five years after this journal’s establishment to consider what the concretion of energy and scholarly attention around periodical studies has wrought. Collier’s question echoes the MLA 2013 roundtable that was in many ways the starting point for our special issue, although the editors were mere audience members. Organized by J. Stephen Murphy around the similarly evocative question “What Is a Journal?” the roundtable began from the premise that periodical studies was fragmented due to the absence of a unified theoretical framework—a move toward synthesis that, while important, is not new.
The conversations at that roundtable strongly emphasized the importance of reading magazines within networks of mediation and remediation. While Ann Ardis argued for a media ecology perspective that understands periodicals’ “intermedial relationships with other communication technologies” (“Towards,” 1) and Sean Latham insisted that we start thinking about modern magazines “as new media technologies” (“Affordance,” 1), James [End Page iii] Mussell called for a methodological turn shaped by attentiveness to “the way media mediate” (“Matter,” 4). Specifically, Mussell emphasized the importance of sameness and repetition. This concern resonates with our sense that periodical studies is frequently structured by an implicit hierarchy of content that privileges the story over the advertisement, the enduring over the fashionable, or, more broadly, the exceptional over the repetitive. It was our desire to carry on this conversation that led to the organization of “Magazines and/as Media: Methodological Challenges in Periodical Studies,” a three-day workshop held at the University of Alberta, August 14–16, 2014.
The presentations and discussions at this workshop took up the MLA panel’s exhortations to think through magazines and their relation to media in two distinct but related ways. They considered, first, how magazines, whether as new media or the transitional remediation of old media, relate to the other media forms that shaped the cultural production and circulation of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including photography, radio, and film. Second, they asked how the advent of digital technologies opens new methodological avenues for engaging with periodicals’ “vast and unwieldy archives” (Latham and Scholes, “Rise,” 529). We were particularly interested in exploring methodologies and critical perspectives that resisted the privileging of canonical objects of study—such as high modernist literary production—in favor of understanding magazines as miscellany, as database, or as network, all metaphors that emphasize patterns of repetition, interlocking systems of mediation, and a certain ludic interplay of objects that resist easy differentiation and categorization.
The resulting special issues—this one, and the companion special issue of English Studies in Canada (vol. 41, no. 1)—strive to find common approaches by exploring the ways in which various scholars’ work generates productive tensions via differing conceptions of the magazine as object of study. The papers are committed to examining magazines as material objects and locating those objects in history, which also entails understanding them as a form of technology in transition. This focus on magazines and/as media demands a shift beyond the modernist little magazine to explore pulp and glossy and amateur periodicals, and beyond Victorian literary periodicals to examine digests, newspapers, and newsletters as vital forms of media production. Challenging the restrictive norms of discipline and brow, these special issues also strive to span a range of historical periods and geographical locales to offer a genuinely border-crossing conversation. [End Page iv]
Periodicals are print media characterized by both seriality—single titles are instantiated across multiple issues—and periodicity—titles strive for, if they don’t always achieve, a regular publication cycle that structures reader engagement. As Mussell has argued elsewhere, the “larger serial structure” of a periodical
is invoked through the...