Wednesday 28th October 2015 saw the first meeting of the North West Print Culture Research Network. Created in association with the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals (RSVP), the Network is an exciting new collaboration between several North West institutions designed to discuss different research projects and in the future produce collaborative research opportunities in the field of print culture and periodical research.
Brian Maidment (LJMU): Reading Victorian Periodical Illustration – A Workshop
This first session was hosted by Edge Hill University and featured a wide variety of workshops, talks and papers from academics working and researching in the field of print culture from across several institutions in the North West, including Edge Hill University, Liverpool John Moores University and Manchester Metropolitan University.
After a brief introduction provided by Bob Nicholson of Edge Hill University, the first session of the day was presented by Professor Brian Maidment (LJMU), and was split into two halves. Firstly, an introduction to the ‘Origins of the Popular Press’ website that is currently being developed by Brian and Val Stevenson, Head of Academic Services at LJMU. The website is designed to digitise numerous Victorian images in extraordinarily high-definition, using state-of-the-art imaging hardware and software. Born out of a desire to explore the politics behind and growth of popular literacy between the years 1820 and 1840, the project utilises material from the archives at LJMU, including substantial and popular publications such as to digitise The Penny Magazine and The Saturday Magazine. Val Stevenson, alongside a skilled group of other collaborative researchers, spoke to the group about how exactly the project commenced, before exploring the process of developing and benefits of the project.
The second half of the session was an interactive workshop, designed to allow those in attendance the chance to interpret some original Victorian satirical images. Those at the session were split into groups, and each given a specific example of Victorian satirical illustration, and asked to interpret it. These included examining frontispiece illustrations, satirising numerous Victorian periodicals, including the Toastmaster, Singer’s Penny Magazine and The Mechanic’s Magazine. Though it was an exercise that was perhaps outside of some peoples’ comfort zones, the session highlighted to the group at large the sheer amount of information that can be interpreted from these satirical illustrations and their forms of social commentary.
Following Brian’s workshop, we had three papers planned for the late session:
“Launching into Cyberspace – Non-Digitised Periodicals: Raising Awareness and Sharing Insights” Lucy Kilfoyle (University of Liverpool)
“History of Everyday Things in England: The Illustration of Mid-Twentieth-Century Social History Books”, Desdemona McCannon (MMU)
“Nineteenth-Century Nuts: The Anatomy of a Victorian Lads’ Mag”, Bob Nicholson (Edge Hill)
Unfortunately, Lucy Kilfoyle was unable to present her paper on non-digitised periodicals due to ill health, although it is worth mentioning that her fabulous blog about the Liverpool Victorian periodical Porcupine is well worth a visit: http://victorianpress.wix.com/liverpoolporcupine
However, we had two fascinating papers, both with an abundance of illustrations to ponder over. Desdemona McCannon gave a thought provoking paper about illustrations for social history books in mid-twentieth century. Desdemona discussed the changes in children’s social history illustrations through a series of texts including Marjorie and CHB Quennell’s A History of Everyday Things in England (1918), Life and Work of the People of England (1929) by Dorothy Hartley & Margaret Elliot, and A History of English Life by Amabel Williams-Ellis (1948).
Desdemona discussed the change in emphasis from the traditional top down approach of history concerned with the lives of kings and queens to discovering ‘history from below’— encountering the popular interest in the everyday lives of ordinary people of history. She used several texts to explain the shift in emphasis from the domestic audience of the Quennell text, creating a narrative that forecast a collaborative discussion of history within a family to the more diagrammatic depiction of history in the Williams-Ellis work, seemingly depicting history through a series of complex statistical graphics. Desdemona discussed the ‘wholesome’ nature of this accumulation of knowledge, passed down through every generation en route to its survival, depicting ‘people at work’ rather than a history of kings and queens— the imaginative engagement with the past through historical illustration. Desdemona also discussed the ‘isotype symbols’ of Otto and Marie Neurath’s Living in the World (1962) which lead to a fruitful discussion about the role illustration plays in visual literacy.
The final paper of the day ‘Nineteenth-Century Nuts: The Anatomy of a Victorian Lads’ Mag’ was from Edge Hill’s Bob Nicholson. The paper identified links between the twenty-first century ‘lads mag’ Nuts and The Illustrated Police News, famous for its depiction of the Jack the Ripper Murders of 1888 and voted the worst newspaper in an 1886 poll. Charting the changes in format and content after a change in owner, Bob highlighted a startlingly similar anatomy of the magazines, from the structure and content of the magazines themselves to the depiction of female bodies within them. The eclectic mix of over exposed female bodies and violent news stories linked the two magazines. Bob discussed the consumption of female bodies in both magazines, referencing unachievable illustrated female bodies and 21st century use of Photoshop to delete imperfections, and the stock images of a pinched waist, enhanced bust and hip, which featured across the magazine. Bob highlighted the stark change from the Illustrated Police News from Purkess’ ownership, which seemingly had a true passion for stories of crime, to a sensationalised magazine of deteriorating quality featuring stock stories with no emphasis on current affairs.