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A Review of The Modernist Journals Project


Working from a premise advanced by Robert Sholes and Clifford Wulfman that “modernism began in the magazines,” The Modernist Journals Project allows scholarly access to a searchable digitized library of rare, important, and now-fragile literary magazines that gave encouragement to many of the 20th century’s greatest voices. Hosted by Brown University and the University of Tulsa, and overseen by a distinguished cast of scholar-advisors, the website also features a periodical directory; complete online books; full-text critical essays; and biographical sketches of contributors, many now hopelessly obscure.  The real stars, however, are the journals themselves.  All published between 1890 and 1922, the journals run from the era of the Decadent revolt against the moral and artistic strictures of the Victorian age, to the annus mirabilis in which modernism triumphed with the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses and T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. Some of the literary titles will be familiar to students of the time: Blast (1914-15); Poetry (1912-22); The Egoist (1914-19); The Little Review (1914-22); Scribner’s Magazine (1910-1922); and The Seven Arts (1916-17). Others will have been only names seen in passing in literary histories, such as:  The Blue Review (1913): Coterie (1919-21); Others (1915-19); and Rhythm (1911-13). Whether your interest lies in imagism, vorticism, Georgian poetry, proto-surrealism, or free verse, there are magazines here to hold your attention

The curators of the MJP have been wise not to restrict their selections only to literary magazines. Proponents of African-American culture and civil rights championed their cause in W.E.B. Dubois’s publication, The Crisis (1910-1922), as did early feminists in the pages of The Freewoman (1911-1912), and socialists in “the most dangerous magazine in America,” The Masses (1911-17).  Because the literature and the politics of the early 20th century were often closely intertwined, each informing the other in thematic content, typography, graphic art, and formal experimentation, visitors will be especially grateful for the high-quality of the PDF scans, from which one can get a real sense of the materiality of the bindings, the cheap wartime paper, and of penciled names and ink drawings.

Inspired by Virginia Woolf’s famous declaration, a collection of popular magazines published “on or about December 1910” have also been provided, the editors tell us, “mainly to provide a perspective on what was being thought, said, pictured, and advertised in both Britain and America at the moment when ‘human character changed’."

The Modern Journals Project is an outstanding example of what can be accomplished in the digital humanities. If you are interested at all in the early 20th century -- its publishing, poetry, aesthetics, art, and politics -- The Modern Journals Project will provide you with a fascinating glimpse of a vanished world whose works, manifestoes, and controversies still reverberate today.

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