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Circulating the Avant-Garde: Aesthetic Counter-Publics in the Little Magazines, 1890-1920

Front cover of The Yellow Book, volume 1, April 1894. Special Collections Research Center. Front cover of The Yellow Book, volume 1, April 1894. Special Collections Research Center.
Front cover of The Yellow Book, volume 1, April 1894. Special Collections Research Center.
Thanks to advances in color lithography and photo-engraving as well as resurgent interest in small-press publishing, richly illustrated and typeset “little magazines” flourished between 1890 and 1920. The materials collected in this exhibit, all held in the Special Collections Research Center, showcase not only the variety, beauty, and originality of turn-of-the-century print-making, but also new ideas about what a magazine can do: namely, create distinctive communities around avant-garde ideas outside of mainstream channels. The communities imagined in these magazines are sometimes explicitly political or aesthetic, but more often both combine in writers’ and artists’ resistance to mass-market, industrial, bourgeois, and nationalist print cultures.

The magazines in this exhibit are mostly American and British, but many are distinctively cosmopolitan, crossing borders to engage with international movements like socialism, decadence, and modernism in their attempts to create an audience united by aesthetic and political ideals rather than nationality. Although the little magazines’ resistance to mainstream journalism shortened their lifespan and restricted their circulation, their experimental approach has had a lasting impact on our sense of magazines as flexible aesthetic and social media.
Front cover of The Yellow Book, volume 1, April 1894. Special Collections Research Center. Front cover of The Yellow Book, volume 1, April 1894. Special Collections Research Center.
Front cover of The Yellow Book, volume 1, April 1894. Special Collections Research Center.
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