- Recovery and Modern Periodical Studies
At the 2015 Society for the Study of American Women Writers (SSAWW) Conference, I participated in a number of conversations about the state of the field of scholarship on American women writers, and particularly the state of recovery as both a material and an intellectual scholarly practice. Allow me to sketch the two general trends of these conversations. On the one hand, we marveled at the ways that digitization has redefined the nature of archival research, making it possible to access and thereby recover a staggering number of texts by heretofore unknown or forgotten women writers. On the other hand, we agreed that recovery as it was originally defined in the 1980s and 1990s—when “recovery” was understood to culminate in the publication of critical editions that exercised significant influence over literary studies and that were widely adopted in college classes—has almost entirely ceased, resulting in a re-entrenchment of the traditional canon and the ongoing marginalization of women’s writing.
The truth almost certainly resides somewhere in between these two positions. The stimulating presentations that took place at the SSAWW conference testify to the fact that feminist recovery continues to be a thriving area of scholarly research, greatly enhanced by digital research methods and digitized archives. Several recent publications demonstrate that there are still avenues, albeit limited in this age of austerity, for making women’s writing available in substantially researched but classroom-friendly print editions, including writing by and about Catherine Brown, Elleanor Eldridge, Constance Fenimore Woolson, Elizabeth Oakes Smith, and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, to name a few.1 Recently launched digital humanities projects, such as Colored Conventions and Memorable Days: The Emilie Davis Diaries, use the versatility of digital technology to make visible the diversity and flexibility encompassed by the label “American women’s writing.”2 Yet much of this work remains on the margins of American literary studies. Even when new discoveries are made, they often fall victim to what Karen Kilcup calls “re-disappearance” and Andreá Williams terms “post-recovery neglect,” languishing in obscurity instead of being integrated into or entirely recasting the dominant paradigms of the field.3 Many scholars resist adding “just one” new or lesser-known text to their research or teaching agendas, even when that text is short, scrupulously edited, and available online for free.4 Consider, by contrast, the recent hullabaloo occasioned by the discovery of a previously unknown and anonymously authored [End Page 2] series of periodical essays by Walt Whitman.5 The extensive press coverage that this discovery received is a disheartening reminder of the fact that many equivalent achievements in recovering women’s writing have occurred without fanfare or recognition, overshadowed as they are by established male authors about whom it would appear we can never know enough.
What is true generally of feminist recovery is equally evident when it comes to the recovery of women’s contributions to periodical culture. In what remains of this introduction, I provide a brief overview of recent scholarship in order to make the point that despite institutional, professional, political, and economic obstacles, scholarly work that is deeply engaged with questions of gender within periodical publishing is flourishing. As can be seen in the essays that make up this forum, groundbreaking scholarship on women’s periodical writing is ongoing and promises to significantly expand our understanding of the possible forms, identities, and political positions these texts might take or articulate. In addition to the work represented here, the number of recent scholarly monographs dedicated to the study of American women’s periodical writing is cause for celebration, including Sari Edelstein’s Between the Novel and the News: The Emergence of American Women’s Writing, Mary Chapman’s Making Noise, Making News: Suffrage Print Culture and U.S. Modernism, Alice Fahs’s Out on Assignment: Newspaper Women and the Making of Modern Public Space, Catherine Keyser’s Playing Smart: New York Women Writers and Modern Magazine Culture, and Rachel Schreiber’s Gender and Activism in a Little Magazine: The Modern Figures of the Masses, to name a few examples. While reprint editions are not common within periodical studies—and are arguably ill...