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Conference Review: The Network of American Periodical Studies Presents Serial [Gendered] Subjects: Periodicals, Identities, Communities, Northumbria University, September 20th, 2019 by Alexandra Abletshauser

Newcastle upon Tyne presented its best side when it welcomed the delegates of the recent Network of American Periodical Studies (NAPS) symposium, at Northumbria University, with sunshine and warm temperatures on Friday, September 20, 2019. This year’s symposium was hosted by the Humanities Research Institute and the Gendered Subjects Research Group at the Northumbria University. It was supported by the University of Sussex Centre for American Studies, the Women’s History Network (WHN) and the British Association for American Studies (BAAS).

The delegates consisted of scholars at various stages of their academic careers, hailing from Canada, Germany, Ireland and Britain. The day’s programme comprised four panels and the keynote. After a warm welcome by the conference’s organisers – Victoria Bazin, Sue Currell and Rosie White – the day began with the first panel, ‘Mediating Gender in Magazines’. In her paper, Annabel Friedrichs (Leibniz University, Hannover, Germany) explored ‘Up-to-Date and On Time: Rose O’Neill’s New Woman Series in Up-to-Date Magazine, 1896.’ O’ Neill, a New Woman, used two diametrically opposed imaginings of the New Woman in the Up-to-Date Magazine: on the one hand, the New Woman was presented as a beautiful, fashionable and marketable cover girl, yet inside the rest of the magazine, the New Woman was ridiculed. In the second paper, Barnaby Haran (University of Hull) introduced us to ‘The “Girl Photographer” of the Machine Age: Margaret Bourke-White at Fortune’. In Haran’s paper, the ambivalence played out differently. Fortune, whose audience was mainly male and whose covers expressed generally patriarchal topics employed Bourke-White, a New Woman, as its main artist. Marie-Andrée Bergeron (University of Calgary, Canada) presented ‘A Gendered Chic. Odette Oligny’s Ambivalent Audacity in 1954 Quebec’. Bergeron demonstrated that Chic demonstrated a similar ambivalence to Up-to-Date Magazine: Chic promoted the New Woman, women’s education, work and financial independence in its editorial whereas the short fiction it published depicted conservative gender roles.

The second panel, ‘Feminist Activism and Periodical Culture’ focused on feminist magazines in the USA and the UK. Mel Waters (Northumbria University) demonstrated in ‘Risky Ms.-ness? The Business of Women’s Liberation Periodicals in the 1970s’ the challenges faced by magazines that aimed to advance the Women’s Liberation movement. Rachael Alexander (Strathclyde University) in ‘“Alive, Practical and Different”: Relational Periodical Identities and Transatlantic Feminism in the 1990s’ explored the varied nature of feminism in her analysis of three feminist periodicals from the United States, England and Scotland.

The first afternoon panel focused on ‘Gender and Seriality in American Periodicals’. Matthew Pethers (University of Nottingham) spoke on ‘Seriality, Serialization, Series: Textual Temporalities and the Gendering of Post-Revolutionary American Fiction’. He used the example of ‘The Gleaner’, a serialized novel from the late eighteenth century to explore the concept of seriality and the emergence of the American novel. Next, Sarah Galletly (University College of Dublin), invited us ‘Around the Table: Gender, Performativity, and Seriality in L.M. Montgomery’s “Cynthia” columns’. The phrase ‘Around the table’ aimed to construct a communal feeling between the reader and the columnist, something that was strengthened through comments on seasonal changes and holidays. Furthermore, the columns contained many references to other articles and texts in other periodicals, thus extending the community outside the column. Finally, Jude Davies (University of Winchester) examined ‘Women’s Agency in the Delineator magazine and the Child-Rescue Campaign, 1907-1910’. Davies explored how the Delineator aimed to bring together ‘a Child without a Home’ with ‘a Home without a Child’. The Delineator’s campaign played thus on feelings, specifically on maternal love.

In the last panel, ‘Radical ‘little’ Magazines: Poetry, Pedagogy and Politics’ made their appearance. Francesca Bratton (Durham University) acquainted us with ‘Radical politics, pedagogy, and the women of The Modern School’. Bratton demonstrated how poetry became a place of resistance and education with the aim to build society and a community. The political thread also appeared in Sue Carrell’s (Sussex University) talk on ‘Sexual and Political Dissidence in the New Masses magazine’. Due to its communist alignment, the New Masses viewed the women’s rights movements differently decrying it as bourgeois and naïve. The New Masses focused on the exploitation of working-class women by middle-class women, of non-white women by white women and in general on the injustice towards female black workers. The topics of marginalization and exploitation also appeared in the last talk by Rona Cran (University of Birmingham) who spoke about ‘Women poets and the mimeograph revolution in mid-century New York’. Cran pointed out that women writers were not considered as poets but as wives or girlfriends, muses and appreciators. Besides their literary work, their editorial work was also marginalized. The labour of editing a magazine was generally credited to a man and not a woman. At the same time editing a magazine became easily codified as feminine work and thus culturally disempowering.

Closing the day was the keynote by Mary Chapman (University of British Columbia) on ‘Slaves Girls and Underground Railroads in the Periodical Publications and Biography of Edith Eaton and Sui Sin Far’. Eaton is often identified as Asian-North American writer who spoke on behalf of Asian people in North America. However, this is now viewed as problematic due to recent discoveries of further work by Eaton, which demonstrated that she not only wrote on Chinese people but also drew a Black-Asian analogy and appropriated slavery tropes and antebellum American minstrel culture.

After the official part of the symposium, delegates enjoyed a drink in a scenic pub in a former railway station house. Afterwards, we enjoyed a tasty meal in an Italian restaurant in Newcastle’s city centre.

In conclusion, the NAPS symposium was very enjoyable. The talks were informative and introduced the delegates to new and current research projects in the field of Periodical Studies. The atmosphere of the symposium was friendly and intimate. The informal and intimate setting allowed delegates to mingle easily among the audience and to engage in talks with each other. I am very grateful for the funding offered by BAAS and WHN that covered all my travel expenses from Glasgow to Newcastle and allowed me to attend the symposium. I am looking forward to the next NAPS symposium and recommend attendance to anyone interested in Periodical Studies.

Alexandra Abletshauser is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow. Her thesis is entitled: Sentimental Fiction? Social Issues in Canadian Women’s Writing, 1880-1914. To find more out about her work see: https://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/critical/postgrad/currentpgs/alexandraabletshauser/#/researchsummary

Image taken from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%27Women%27s%27_Magazines_(37675720342).jpg#/media/File:’Women’s’_Magazines_(37675720342).jpg

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