ENG 4934 Capstone for the Major

The Digital Newsstand:

The Summer of 1925

Reading American Culture through the Magazine

Class Overview

For roughly a century, the magazine reigned supreme as the reading material of the general public. Until the mid-20th Century, magazines were the arbiters of American taste, social conscience, and, at times, national identity. Writers, publishers, and even editors reached the level of celebrity enjoyed by today’s movie and sports stars. The rising technology of industrialization – printing, transportation, mechanical reproduction – created the magazine. And it is also technology, initially television and now the internet, that is causing the slow death of the entire form until, like newspapers, magazines are in danger of disappearing.

           Even now, it may be unimaginable to conceive of how influential the periodical was to American culture, just as it is impossible to gauge how instrumental it was in constructing our literary history, for we have already lost ephemeral albeit integral aspects of 20th Century literary production. One of the most important and visual of these aspects was The Newsstand, the literary marketplace for the majority of Americans for generations. It was a vivid, colorful, and constant part of daily urban life.

           Yet there are scant records of this important institution in archives, especially in comparison to the relatively rarified – and exclusionary – history of the bookstore (for example, there are incredibly few photographs of newsstands, and even fewer in color), just as there is no cohesive sense of actual magazine production. The academic archive largely ignores the vast history of mass-market magazine production due to both its very ubiquity and its ephemeral nature. This class, in part, hopes to recover that history.


Capstone and Class Project Overview

Often, the study of literature is so theoretical and rarified that the literary text seems to exist in a vacuum, and the application of the critical skills innate to English Studies – those skills that you have worked so hard to learn – seem to have little real-world applications. The goal of the capstone is to offer an experience wherein you pragmatically apply what you have learned as an English Major to a project that has dimensions beyond the classroom. The capstone is meant to be a) a culmination of your major; b) an introduction of skills that bridge the academic, public, and private spheres; and c) a means for you to start thinking about post-graduate life.

Therefore, the project for this class involves the designing, streamlining, and marketing of the online Virtual Newsstand – the digital re-creation of a newsstand from 1925 (More on the topic for this project below.) This project is in keeping with the current trend in higher education for “digital humanities,” an anomalous label for web-based interdisciplinary collaborations that, to be reductive, explore and substantiate the “human” in the electronic world and bridge technology and traditional English studies.

The beauty of such a project – and this project in particular – is that it is interdisciplinary: it touches upon a myriad of possible applications for English Majors: Journalism, Education, Textual Studies, Cultural Theory, Library Science, Creative Writing, Business and Project Management. It will therefore be important for you to identify your own interests and goals for your degree so that we can delegate duties.

Dr. David M. Earle

Dept. of English

University of West Florida