Editing Modernism in Canada


November 21, 2012

Hannah McGregor on Martha Ostenso, Middlebrow Magazines, and Digital Methodologies

Hannah McGregor has tentatively entitled her study of the simultaneous 1925 serialization of Martha Ostenso’s Wild Geese in Western Home Monthly and Pictorial Review, “‘Vast and Unwieldy Archives’: Middlebrow Magazines and Digital Remediation.”

By situating Wild Geese in both of its original print contexts — one Canadian and one American, both middlebrow — Hannah hopes to challenge familiar literary historical narratives of Ostenso as a figure who contributed one important text of prairie realism, and then declined into middlebrow “potboilers” after moving to the United States. Hannah is particularly interested in how the complexity of early twentieth-century cultural production as exemplified in the frequent remediation of Wild Geese (which included serialization, as well as a novel, silent film, CBC radio drama, and made-for-television movie) challenges the familiar categories of authorship, nationality, genre, literary quality, and medium.

In her project, Hannah will engage with several different areas of literary studies, including periodical studies, middlebrow studies, Canadian literature, and digital humanities. So far, scholars working with periodicals have had to work primarily through sampling, or the model of the “telling example,” because of the sheer quantity of material in a single title. In order to place Wild Geese in its original print contexts, Hannah proposes a new method of studying magazines that attempts to understand them as complex webs of multiple forms of media (fiction, illustrations, advice columns, advertisements, etc.) without privileging any specific type over another. In viewing periodicals in this way, Hannah hopes to demonstrate through her proof-of-concept project that the middlebrow magazine can be productively modelled as a database.

Hannah is currently in the process of applying for postdoctoral funding for this project, which she would like to begin in February 2013 as part of the EMiC University of Alberta Collaboratory. As preparation for this project, Hannah is working with Paul Hjartarson and Harvey Quamen to put together an ACCUTE panel entitled, “’The Genre of the Twenty-First Century’? Databases and the Future of Literary Studies,” and to build transnational partnerships with other related projects (including Faye Hammill and Michelle Smith’s “Magazines, Travel and Middlebrow Culture in Canada 1925-1960” and the Modernist Journals Project, both of which explore the intersection of periodical studies and digital methodologies) to support this work. Hannah, Hjartarson, and Quamen are also interested in potentially working with the University of Alberta Library to digitize Western Home Monthly, which, despite being the most widely circulated magazine in Western Canada in the first decades of the twentieth century, remains an understudied cultural object.

Right now, Hannah’s main obstacle is copyright. Periodicals present a unique set of difficulties — given the multiple authors and types of material, lack of extant archive or research precedent, and absence of clear documentation of copyright policy — and Western Home Monthly is no exception. If you know of any resources that might help Hannah track down the copyright information for Western Home Monthly, or if you know of any other projects that are working at the intersection of any of her project’s primary concerns (middlebrow, periodicals, databases), please feel free to get in touch with Hannah at hannah.mcgregor@gmail.com.

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