About the project

The cultural periodical is unique in its ability to offer a snapshot of a social, political, and intellectual moment. Through its variety of  topical voices and discourses – editorials and essays, sketches and reviews, poetry and fiction, artwork and advertising – the cultural magazine captures the mood of the times like no other form of cultural production before the digital age.

But more than this, periodicals also have a crucial role to play in actively shaping that mood, providing an open and responsive space in which ideas and knowledge can be exchanged, propagated, and contested, in which values can be challenged and negotiated. And at crisis-points and threshold moments in intellectual and cultural history, the active agency of these unique sites acquires immense significance in the genesis and transmission of ideas.

This project explores the role of the cultural magazine at one such threshold moment, through a comprehensive quantitative and qualitative analysis of the European periodical landscape in a single year, the year 1930. Amidst conflicting experiences of modernism, the lasting trauma of the First World War, and the more immediate shock of the Wall Street Crash, European intellectuals found themselves confronted in 1930 with a profound sense of crisis, but also a potent sense of agency. That sense of crisis and agency, and the multiple responses to it, finds itself refracted through the prism of the periodical field and its distinctive and infinitely complex fractal forms, where apparently endless and chaotic heterogeneity exists in a delicate balance with recurring patterns of order and coherence.

For the first time, this project sets out to create a synchronic map of that field, using this time slice not only to advance our understanding of this crucial moment in European cultural history and the complex processes of cultural change at work, but also to develop new interdisciplinary tools essential to analyse and understand the function of the periodical as an object of enquiry in its own right. Those tools combine conventional literary-textual analysis with quantitative and statistical analyses and with conceptual frameworks derived from the social sciences
(Bourdieu and cultural sociology), mathematics (fractal geometry and texture analysis), and IT (digital imaging).

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