1 a period of artistic, social, and political upheaval whose first rumblings could be heard in the 1890s, modernism reached its peak of seismic activity in the 1910s and 20s and lasted through WWII, though its aftershocks still registered in the 1950s and 60s.
2 modernism is not a single, unified movement, but a concatenation of innovations and -isms, including: avant-garde movements such as Symbolism, Futurism, Imagism, Dadaism, and Surrealism; intellectual, social, and political theories by Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Emma Goldman, Werner Heisenberg, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Margaret Sanger; and technological developments such as the camera, telephone, automobile, airplane, movies, and—perhaps most importantly for little magazines—the portable typewriter.
little magazine: n.
1 a non-commercial periodical of limited circulation, usually dedicated to publishing experimental art and literature and/or unconventional social ideas and political theories. The term “little” refers to the circulation, rather than the physical size, and is a relative, variable measure.
Origins: Beginning in the 1910s, an unprecedented outpouring of new ideas and technologies spurred a proliferation of magazines of all shapes and sizes. These magazines fueled the turbulent movement called modernism.
A Defense of the Little Magazine
The term “little magazine” has recently come under attack by Robert Scholes and Clifford Wulfman in their book, Modernism in the Magazines: An Introduction (Yale UP 2010). Scholes and Wulfman argue that the “little magazine” designation lacks specificity and imposes a false and elitist division between high and low cultural spheres. “We must learn to stop talking, writing and thinking as if the category of ‘little magazines’ represented something real in the textual world,” they insist, “It is a dream category, an attempt to unite periodicals of which the uniter approves[,] and exclude those lacking such approval” (60).
But “there is another way of understanding the ‘little magazine’ not as a separate, elite sphere, but as a niche within a diverse, dynamic print market—a provisional position within a protean network of periodicals” (Churchill, “Little Magazines,” Blackwell Companion to Modernist Poetry, 174). Put another way, we might think of “little magazines as tributaries of the mainstream, rather than separate factions—tributaries that waxed and waned, fed back into the main current, or dried up before another torrent of activity overflowed” (174). The tributary metaphor acknowledges that the boundaries between media types are fluid and permeable.
The Index of Modernist Magazines
The Index of Modernist Magazines seeks to reflect the diversity of little magazines circa 1890-1950, but in its current form, represents only a small portion of a large periodical pool. The magazines included here reflect the interests of the student authors as well as the accessibility of various periodicals. Most squarely fit our definition of little magazines, though some, such as Poetry and Crisis are still running today, so do not qualify as short-lived, and many are not strictly non-commercial, since they accepted advertising from local businesses and other like-minded ventures. Like the little magazines it represents, the Index is an ongoing venture, an organic form, and a work-in-progress.