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EVANGHELIA STEAD | Professor of Comparative Literature at the UVSQ, director of the TIGRE seminar (Paris, École Normale Supérieure) and 2014–15 EURIAS fellow at FRIAS (Freiburg Institute of Advanced Studies). Her interdisciplinary research, also based on language skills, has considered myths, poetics and hermeneutics, transmission of important texts, periodical and book studies in Europe. She was interviewed by Gábor Dobó (OAD) in December 2014.


The title of one of your books states that the history of Europe between 1880 and 1920 can be told as the history of the Europe of Periodicals (L’Europe des revues). Why were periodicals more important in this era than in the previous or the following decades? What gives periodicals this special significance?

This is not a book I have personally written, but a collective venture I co-edited with Hélène Védrine in 2008 (republished in 2011) [1]. It was conceived and edited in the wake of an international conference held in 2006 in Paris at the INHA but does not correspond to the usual conference proceedings. Its 25 contributions, stemming from ten cultural areas, are divided into two sections, «I. The Review and its Contexts», and «II. Panorama of Reviews in Europe». Seven chapters are meant to open up new research directions under such headings as: periodicals, the press and photography; periodicals, art prints and books; periodicals and the theatre; ‘little’ French reviews and the overlapping of aesthetic schools; modernism in ‘little’ British reviews; expanding Art Nouveau in Europe; and futurist projections.

The title L’Europe des revues was chosen not from a historical point of view but with a comparative and interdisciplinary perspective in mind. The aim was to break with the monographic or national approach informing so many periodical studies, even present collective work. There are of course many ways to write European history. If historians find this approach helpful, the book can also be used in that sense. However, its primary scope was to show the extent of the phenomenon in many countries, its plurality and importance. Beyond this, one of my personal concerns lies with the idea of Europe: how can we think about Europe, consider Europe, think European? What makes us European? Not so much from a financial, political or strategic point of view in a world economy of intense competition, but culturally? Parallel work on texts in that sense, namely a book on Ulysses from Tennyson to Borges based on the double heritage of Dante’s Inferno and Homer’s Odyssey [2], made me see that European literature does not exist per se. But it can be mapped out, thought out, constructed and construed. Significant patterns can be traced, questions raised. Periodicals are obviously a vast field in any country. They loom ominously vaster, when seen in a European perspective. Their mass can discourage research, but such an angle shouldn’t be alarming, since periodical publication is tellingly based on exchange and circulation. Periodicals can therefore contribute to map out a European cultural history, rich in constellations and particular cases, full of continuities but also disruptions. It seemed that Humanities are a forum to think about this, even though, from a strictly historical point of view, European history seems to be paved by major conflicts.

The period 1880–1920 we concentrated upon seemed important for at least three reasons:

a) the 19th century is the century of industrialization and media, corresponding to the rise of consumerist culture. Although the phenomenon of the press, and of periodicals particularly, appears much earlier than 1880 (it starts back in the 18th century with such publications as The Spectator and The Tattler), the last twenty years of the 19th century correspond to a peak in periodical publications across Europe. Also to a period of intense questioning and innovation from philosophical, artistic and literary points of view. Periodicals reflect these issues and periodical studies can modify extant classifications of literary or aesthetic movements. The volume shows, for instance, how modernism or futurism are linked with the fin-de-siècle.

b) Ours was not a global venture. We had to start somewhere and 1880 is an important date. In France (and Paris is a crucial cultural centre at that period), within two months, three laws change radically the political and social landscape: from the 29th of July, restrictions in publications, printing and the periodical press are abolished; the law of the 16th June 1880 makes primary education obligatory; and the right to hold public meetings without previous authorisation is recognised on the 30th June 1880. In each country’s history, similar phenomena can be observed across Europe.

c) 1920 is a more tentative and experimental choice, simply covering as many years after 1900 as 1880–1900 did before. Michel Melot justifies it in the volume’s introduction. It is of course justifiable by the idea of periodicals bridging the gap between centuries, especially in France where so much literary research is confined to strict ‘century’ limits. But such an option was also driven by the idea that most studies, starting like ours in 1880, choose to break at 1914, with the beginning of the War, an important landmark of course. However, this unchallenged break is at the root of two problems: it cannot explain what makes periodicals so important and inventive after the first World War breaks out, nor where they get their experience and originality from; neither does it allow for the strong continuity that exists in spirit, matter and manner between the end of the 19th century and, say, surrealism or other modern ventures in the 1920s to appear. Moreover, it contributes to radically separate the fin-de-siècle from the so-called avant-garde, whereas the fin-de-siècle is already avant-garde (the term is commonly used in fin-de-siècle periodicals). Not to mention fundamental shifts in modern art before the first World War (fauves, cubism etc.) or in history just after (end of the Habsburg empire, bolshevism etc.) A good example of this is the Italian Lacerba (1913–1915), which is both futurist and pro-war. If we had adopted a more traditional approach, we would have had to leave Lacerba or the Russian almanacs out…


Examining periodicals your key term is ‘image’. What makes this concept new? What is the relationship between ‘image’ and the term ‘periodical code’, which is so widespread in recent English language papers?

I wouldn’t call ‘image’ a concept, but an approach, a change of tack, or a gambit. By inviting colleagues to take images into account, we invited them to look at the magazines for themselves along with reading them, and researching them from their specific viewpoint and with their particular disciplinary preoccupations in mind. Text-centric studies are frequently indifferent to displays of text, print or images (scholars read mainly for ideas); historians of art, regularly sensitive to images, are often unresponsive to literary texts or to page lay-out; book studies and media specialists, keen on print-runs, networks and publishers, are not necessarily interested in the contents. Every one of these addressed periodicals in a limited way, and did not fully tackle their variety and complexity as cultural objects. Neither was the idea to extend word and image studies to periodicals, analysing binary relations in them, since they are multiple and multidimensional. Putting the accent on images, we tried to develop a more comprehensive approach. Why not start by deciphering them from beginning to end, as telling wholes, while developing a particular topic? Their materiality is inventive, strongly allusive of extant press categories, rapidly inventing new ones. To a certain extent, the same can be said of books of the period, as I have strived to show in The Flesh of the Book [La Chair du livre] [3], but periodicals are more ephemeral. They are cheaper; therefore they can test formulas more easily, play with them, discard them, and take on new ones… Additionally, they act as cultural platforms, both as podiums and stages. A fair share of cultural life springs from them and is mirrored in their pages. And exchanges between periodicals and books are more intense and richer than we think.

As for the «periodical code», in common English the expression refers to a cipher, or a particular system. It could concern communication within a periodical or between periodicals; a system employed to refer to periodicals, such as the ISSN used in the magazine industry to differentiate the issues; or an ethical code of practice, such as the one commonly used in newspapers and periodicals. Code is a term used in linguistics to denote use of different languages: code switching, or a secret language asking for explanation, elucidation or interpretation. Are periodicals more encoded than the press or books can be? Should they be cut and disconnected from the daily press or the book trade? The answer would have to come from weighing what we lose and what we gain in each case (if we consider them as a separate category or as a particular part of a more general system). Peter Brooker and Andrew Thacker (with whom I have regularly collaborated since 2005) styled the term ‘periodical codes’ in the «General Introduction» of their magnum opus [4] on Jerome McGann’s distinction between the ‘linguistic codes’ and the ‘bibliographic codes’ of a text [5]. However images belong both to semiotics and semantics (and thus to ‘linguistic codes’) as much as they constitute part of a periodical’s format and appearance (they then are part of its ‘bibliographic codes’). I wouldn’t personally create a particular category for periodicals. It seems more important to go for the core, and that core is circulation. The most obscure periodical, even the one issue review exists through circulation, occurs by being circulated and talked about. And the relations between periodicals and the book trade are hardly explored as yet.


Do you think we can consider studying periodicals a discipline? Does «The Rise of Periodical Studies» [6] exist as a phenomenon?

Certainly not a discipline, not one more! We should not forget that discipline implies rules and sanction. The idea of both L’Europe des revues and of the TIGRE seminar is to cross disciplines, exchange views and inter-relate, not create yet another specialists’ field, which, in its effort and struggle to be peer-recognized is likely to diligently utter rules, scopes, aims, issues, etc. We are well enough supplied with them already to be able to explore periodicals and understand what they are and how they work. More to the point, what about testing how periodicals challenge our disciplinary criteria?

What makes them exciting is that they open paths for so many fields of research: history of the press, history of art, media, cultural studies, literature, comparative literature, book studies, social studies, anthropology, librarians’ and curators’ practices, digital humanities…

«The Rise of Periodical Studies» is a fine title and Sean Latham’s and Robert Scholes’ article certainly points to the development of many new and frequently collective ventures in contemporary academia. It is striking though that they consider only American or English ventures, as if Europe did not exist outside the English-speaking world; they also tend to keep English and American initiatives separate, as if English and American periodicals did not communicate or circulate between the Old and the New World. At the same time, such a title strongly smacks of historicism, of social and political studies. It irresistibly reminds one of, say, The Rise of urban America, The Rise of modern Europe, The Rise of the middle classes, etc., to say nothing of The Rise and Fall…. Are periodicals our lost continent as avant-garde periodicals used to be scholarship’s treasured so-called ‘little’ reviews a half-century beforehand?

Much has been said about the digital turn in the Humanities, namely the fact the digitized versions of magazines make new ways of research possible; also about the commodity supplied by fully searchable digital texts. However, Latham’s and Scholes’ article clearly points out two major problems made paramount by intense digitisation: digitised periodicals based on library holdings are incomplete because periodicals have not been treated as significant wholes in the past (they have often been stripped of the advertisements, of the ephemera, even of the covers); and fully searchable digital texts do not yield complete (therefore, telling) results unless they are properly marked up.

Now marking up is a very expensive and time-consuming process, as show two articles I have recently translated and edited for L’Europe des revues II : réseaux et circulation des modèles (forthcoming, 2016). One was in English by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra on how The Yellow Nineties on Line [7] was made and what its purposes are. The other in Italian by Giorgio Bacci, who is leading the Firb project Spreading Visual Culture: Contemporary Art through Periodicals, Archives and Illustrations [8]. Actually, efficient research on a subject and on periodicals has to use both digital and paper resources. At this stage, they clearly complement each other.

Just consider what Brooker and Thacker say in their «General Introduction». They see two significant turns that have encouraged periodical studies: the digital turn and the material turn. However, these clearly contradict each other. Digital realities transform material ones. Access is capital, but access is only the first step… One of my PhD students, Philipp Leu, is working on this [9] and I hope his work will allow us to discuss further these questions.


You have been responsible for the seminar TIGRE held at École normale supérieure since 2004. At the seminars (Réseaux des revues artistiques et littéraires en Europe, 1860–1930) every other month guest lecturers talk about their fields of expertise followed by debate. What conclusions (theoretical or practical) can be drawn from this practice, where scholars of different eras and fields discuss the same topic – periodicals between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th?

This seminar has a history too long to describe in detail [10], but it started before I became involved as a students’ venture based on word and image. I took it on in 2004 because there was a strong consensus among people that met regularly around books or periodicals that a forum was needed to exchange ideas, independently of publication imperatives, peer-reviewed articles or short-form talks, as in conferences, symposia, colloquia etc. 

What struck me from the very beginning was the presence of doctoral students that had no institutional obligation to be there, but who were. I had no institutional obligation either to conduct the seminar, but a need to discuss matters. Obviously, that need was shared.

Since then, it has developed into a (I hope) creative inter-university formula: Master and Ph.D. students mingle with post-doctorate scholars, free researchers, young or confirmed academics from various disciplines, sometimes curators, librarians, even collectors.

The theoretical conclusion is that such a formula benefits individual and collective work: the seminar’s sessions are articulated in cycles, but these are considered as work-in-progress, with no obligation to publish. We need time to think things out and refine approaches. Publishing everything as soon as possible is not a good idea. The Europe of Periodicals II: networks and circulation of models (forthcoming, co-edited again with Hélène Védrine) is the first volume that will come out of the TIGRE seminars, yet stemming from a cycle starting back in 2008: a selection of topics was made, the papers reworked, and additional contributions requested outside the seminar.

Practically, the most interesting aspect is the intermingling of students and researchers with all the intermediary cases between the two. For both categories, there is some benefit and some strain involved. Master I students, for instance, previously used to planned courses and thought-out formulas ready for them to absorb, find themselves grappling with research questions. They gradually realise that this forges a lifelong attitude rather than academic compliance. Rather a way of being and of thinking. Academics on the other hand can freely test a hypothesis, present a very specific topic, and ask intricate questions, but have to be clear enough to be understood both by a profane and an initiated audience.


In the spring of 2014 I had the opportunity at TIGRE to see Mateusz Chmurski giving a lecture on the Polish periodical Mucha, Ada Ackerman on Russian periodicals dealing with photographs in the 1920s and 1930s, and I understand Clara Royer gave a lecture on turn-of-the-century Hungarian satirical magazines, and you accepted our invitation to open a Kassák exhibition in Paris.


How self-explanatory do you think it is that studying European periodicals spans both Western and Eastern Europe?

It is a quarter of the century now that the Berlin Wall was pulled down. Modern Europe tends to be a whole, both Western and Eastern, even if inherited hierarchies are still strongly felt. The period the seminar has been considering in its latest cycle on networks, i.e. 1860–1930, covers much of the end of the Habsburg era and sees the emergence of many modern states, particularly in the so-called ‘East’ (But where does ‘East’ really start?). The historic division between East and West is a rather 20th-century driven rift. Distinguishing between a Western and an Eastern Europe would be artificial in our case. However, several papers concerning ‘Eastern’ periodicals do include historical clarifications.


What conclusions do you expect to be drawn from this approach?

The seminar’s current stress is on networks and circulation of models across Europe: this not only concerns individual exchanges and correspondence, as is often the case, but also external and internal relations between periodicals. We consider how formats, layouts and typefaces are borrowed, adapted and changed while taking into account periodical manifestos, uttered aims, and target audiences; circulation of texts and ideas through translation and reviews of texts; circulation of images on both an artistic and commercial basis; networks working between well-known centres but also peripheries; the advent of specialised periodicals in such a context; and how modern means of approach (digitisation) allows for the reconstruction of networks through modern means. I hope future periodical research will benefit from these enquiries.


Can studying periodicals be used to refine the widely accepted description that Western Europe is a cultural centre while Eastern Europe is peripheral?

Of course. Xavier Galmiche’s paper for instance (on the Czech satirical periodical Šibeničky [Small Gallows], 1903–1907) clearly shows that motifs crystalize by building on allusions, both internal to a given periodical (which can be cryptic at times), and external, recycling well-known models from other press sources. Eastern Europe may well be dependent on the West in this case, nevertheless its own dynamics allow it to reinvest motifs with a forceful new meaning, thus giving them new impetus. Such a perspective should help challenge established ideas.




[1] L’Europe des revues (1880–1920), Estampes, photographies, illustrations, dir. Evanghelia Stead, Hélène Védrine, Paris, Presses de l'université Paris-Sorbonne, 2008, reed. 2011.

[2] Seconde Odyssée, Ulysse de Tennyson à Borges, textes réunis, commentés et en partie traduits par Evanghelia Stead, Grenoble, Jérôme Millon, coll. «Nomina», 2009.

[3] La Chair du livre : matérialité, imaginaire et poétique du livre fin-de-siècle, Paris, PUPS, coll. «Histoire de l’imprimé», 2012. Reviews by Peter Cogman and Nicole G. Albert.

[4] The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines, vol. I, Britain and Ireland, 1880–1955, ed. by Peter Brooker and Andrew Thacker, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 5–8.

[5] Jerome McGann, The Textual Condition, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1991, p. 13.

[6] Sean Latham and Robert Scholes, «The Rise of Periodical Studies», PMLA, vol. 121, n° 2, March 2006, pp. 517–531.

[7] See

[8] See

[9] See

[10] See «TIGRE et travaux : Le T.I.G.R.E., séminaire interuniversitaire de recherche», La Revue des revues, n° 42, automne 2009, pp. 88–90.


© 2014–2015 OAD | Gábor Dobó | Evanghelia Stead