Editorial: Fin-de-Siècle Magazines and/as Modern Media


What is a magazine, and how is this form of communication and expression related to modern media?

Although it may look like a book, a magazine is more like a database or digital interface than it is like a codex. An assemblage or “storehouse” (magazine’s etymological root) of different voices, genres, and media, a magazine is about relationships and adjacencies on the page or within the issue. And just as readers can choose multiple routes through any given magazine—they may go directly to the advertisements, the poetry, the pictures, or the letters page; they may skim, read intensely, cut out, or ignore selected material—the meanings they generate are multivalent: specific to the time, the place, and the individual reading.

Multimodal and interactive rather than verbal and linear, the illustrated magazines that emerged at the end of the nineteenth century were one of the first forms of modern mass media. Responding to rapid changes in technology and society, print culture combined image and text in innovative ways to reach both avant-garde and middlebrow readerships and to engage readers as consumers of the present moment. At the fin de siècle, the new was embodied in New Journalism’s image-heavy format and visual advertising; in news items focusing on fashion, celebrity, urban life, and empire; and in abbreviated literary contents such as the short story or poem.

The digital archives of the twenty-first century have made fin-de-siècle periodicals newly available. Their remediations allow us, as James Mussell observes, “to reimagine what we thought we knew about the nineteenth century”—an exercise, he cautions, that “is only possible if we critically engage with both periodicals and digital resources.”

The pages in Volume 2 of Modernity and the Visual (2017) critically engage with magazines and/as modern media.