Prepping for ‘Future States’

30th March 2020

John Wyver writes: Today sees the start of the online conference ‘Future States: Modernity and national identity in popular magazines, 1890-1945’ which I introduced last week. Organised by the Centre for Design History, University of Brighton, this is operating with a nearly carbon-neutral conference format which over the next fortnight-plus will combine videos delivered by Youtube, related presentation materials on the conference website, links to additional resources and online forums (fora?) and chat. There’s a Twitter feed as well. I’m also delighted to say that the organisers have asked me, along with Barbara Green, professor of English, University of Notre Dame, to contribute some brief closing remarks at the start of a plenary session from 14 April.

I’ve been doing a little prep for the conference, of which more below. I’m hopeful that the contributions and exchanges with other participants will offer some much-needed stimulation — not to mention pleasure — in these dark days. I am deeply intrigued about the conference format and whether this is a viable sustainable alternative to conventional conferences with their huge carbon footprints.

And of course I’m really interested in the conference topic, which Andrew Thacker introduces briefly here, in the first offering from ‘Future States’ (available until 5 April) which has just gone online. Professor Thacker offers the briefest of guides to the field of modern periodical studies and puts forward the wise suggestion, appropriate in pretty much any context, that we will do well to learn from Antonio Gramsci.

My preparation for ‘Future States’ has involved two lots of online reading. I have been interested to learn more about ‘econferences’, a neologism that references both digital and environmental imperatives. Amongst the best resources, in addition to the white paper guide from University of California Santa Barbara, is the cluster of great blog posts drawn from a forthcoming volume with Open Book PublishersRight Research: Modelling Sustainable Research Practices in the Anthropocene is edited by Geoffrey Rockwell, Chelsea Miya and Oliver Rossier, and as they say

one of the book’s central topics is how to stage successful conferences online. One consequence of the global pandemic we are all currently facing has been a wave of cancellations of academic conferences, and we are all having to learn how to do more remotely, now and for the foreseeable future. Because of this urgent new situation, the authors wanted to make relevant chapters publicly available immediately.

‘What do conferences do—and can econferences replace them?’ is a good introduction to key issues including presence, access and temporal factors. And Terry Anderson’s ‘Time management and continuous partial attention’ (edited by Lucy Barnes) is a helpful discussion of Linda Stone’s idea of continuous partial attention:

To pay continuous partial attention is to pay partial attention — CONTINUOUSLY. It is motivated by a desire to be a LIVE node on the network. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. We want to effectively scan for opportunity and optimize for the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment. To be busy, to be connected, is to be alive, to be recognized, and to matter.

Reading the modern magazine

As for the specific focus of ‘Future States’, I have been especially engaged over the weekend by ‘Reading the modern magazine in an interdisciplinary humanities lab’. This is a forum of rigorously-argued articles from the open-access digital platform Print Plus that complements the influential journal Modernism/modernity. The essay cluster brings together an initial provocation by Katja Lee and Hannah McGregor and seven contributions that examine how and why to read the archive of The Western Home Monthly (WHM). WHM was a popular middlebrow magazine in Canada published between 1899 and 1932 out of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Digitized between 2014 and 2016 as part of the Modern Magazine Project Canada, it is freely available in a meta-data rich version on Peel’s Prairie Provinces – from which this wonderful July 1932 cover comes.

The articles are a treasure trove of approaches and methodologies for exploring questions of modernity and modernism, gender, national identity and more in twentieth century magazines. Matthew Philpotts is really good on ‘Reading periodical texture’; in ‘Lost in the (national) archive: The Modern Girl and the magazine’, Victoria Kuttainen looks for the international figure of the Modern Girl in WHM; and Shawna McDermott employs the frameworks of the developing field of childhood studies to consider WHM.

Rachael Alexander adopts a comparative approach in a study of WHM alongside Canadian Home Journal, which was published from 1905 to 1958; Anouk Lang introduces the techniques of spatial humanities in a study of place and geography within WHM; and five graduate students working under Barbara Green at Notre Dame contribute reflections about the potential and problems of periodical studies.

I particularly enjoyed Jaleen Grove’s ‘Embodying word and image: magazines in illustration studies’ which is illuminating about illustration in magazines in all sorts of ways. She’s also especially good on the importance of working with the material objects of magazines and not simply relying on digital versions. And she demonstrates delightfully her use of her own drawings and jottings as critical practice:

Tactile engagement with real magazines approximates period reading; this physical, haptic input fosters embodiment of the object and one’s innate understanding of it. This embodied knowledge is best expressed in a matching form of output in an equally tactile medium. Logging manual, affective engagement and the research process in a sketchbook with visual-verbal notations has numerous benefits, many of which have been theorized by scholars who consider drawing a form of thought and of research.

Jaleen Grove concludes with a list of these benefits which is rather wonderfully inspirational – and which despite my lamentable drawing skills I may even try out as I watch and listen and learn from ‘Future States’. I can’t promise to feature any of my illustrations here over the coming days but I will be reporting back as I formulate my ideas for the closing remarks.


  1. Hi John
    This is a fascinating post – really looking forward to your contributions to Future States over the next three weeks.

    The presentations are launched in a series of panels over the first two weeks of the conference (dates on the conference Programme page). We won’t take them back down, once they’re live: the videos are part of the permanent record of the conference. The Q&A forums are open for the length of the conference (30 March – 17 April), and are then suspended.

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