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  • Network
  • Kelley Kreitz (bio)

Networks have proliferated in periodical studies, and it is no surprise that much of the research centered on networks looks at nineteenth-century texts.1 As that century’s new railroad systems, electric telegraph wires, and telephone lines powered a process of “networking the world,” the word “network” arrived at its modern meanings.2 First used in the sixteenth century to evoke the interlacing pattern of fabric or netting, by the nineteenth century, network came to mean “any netlike or complex system or collection of interrelated things, as topographical features, lines of transportation, or telecommunications routes” and also “an interconnected group of people.”3 In recent years, a range of studies have patched periodicals back into the material and social networks in which they participated—in order to trace transnational trajectories and to unsettle dominant historical narratives by uncovering competing voices and ideas.4 Many such studies, at times bolstered by computational methods, have also made the network central to new conceptual models that reveal, in varying ways, the diversity and complexity of print cultural history.

The network plays this dual role—as a means of recovering literal routes of circulation and transculturation, and as a metaphor for conceptualizing the cultural work of periodicals as they follow such routes—in Ryan Cordell’s investigation through the NULab Viral Texts Project of the networks of newspapers that frequently reprinted the same content. He proposes that “an idea of the ‘network author’ accounts for the ways in which meaning and authority accrued to acts of circulation and aggregation across antebellum newspapers.”5 Stacy Margolis traces pathways of political influence within the United States in the early nineteenth century “through invisible networks of friends, acquaintances, and strangers” to elucidate the role of texts that she calls “network fictions” in imagining forms of democratic participation.6 In my own work on nineteenth-century Spanish-language literary magazines published in the US and Latin America, following the lines of a hemispheric network of publications, contributors, and readers reanimates ideas that were later obscured by twentieth-century notions of literary value. The Havana-based La Habana Elegante (Elegant Havana), for example, developed an alternative idea of the literary—what I call “networked literature”—centered on activism, a more participatory role for readers, and an aspiration to create a dominant Spanish-language print culture throughout the hemisphere.7

In these and other studies, networks reveal paths of influence and exchange, which in turn enable new conceptual models that challenge long-standing assumptions about authorship, literary form, and the centers and peripheries of cultural production. As Edward Whitley notes, “Networks invite attention to the limbs and offshoots that might otherwise be pruned from literary histories concerned with smooth and continuous progress over time.“8 Whitley’s observation elucidates the impulse behind much recent work that engages notions of the network: to gain a [End Page 5] vantage point on earlier media systems that shows more than just what scholars have since chosen to privilege. Or, to put it in terms of another set of metaphors that Whitley engages here, the goal is to see more of the garden beyond just those blossoms that scholars have plucked and put on display. The gardening language should not be mistaken to mean that such a perspective is somehow more natural and less cultivated; a garden, of course, is still a display and far from a return to some kind of nineteenth-century media wilderness. Perhaps a less slippery choice of words comes from Thomas Augst’s recent observation that, “encountered across digital archives, US literature becomes a collection rather than a canon.”9 The expanded scope of texts relevant to literary history that Augst describes here is also what scholars who have employed notions of the network have sought to bring into view through their own acts of collection and—to employ another powerful metaphor discussed in this collaboration—curation.

In their apparent ability to break from tradition, however, networks can also be deceiving. As my own reflections here demonstrate, networks are metaphors that invite spatial thinking. It is difficult to write about networks without articulating some kind of space in which they operate, and the most...

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