A reflection from Christina Bezari on the upcoming seminar entitled “The Presence of Women Editors in the Press Industry (1850-1950)”

The WeChangEd project travels to the USA in the form of a seminar entitled “The Presence of Women Editors in the Press Industry (1850-1950)” at the annual international convention of the Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA). This year’s convention will take place in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, from the 12th until the 15th of April 2018. As the chair of the seminar, I have assembled a team of international experts who will look into the participation of women in the public dialogue through the prism of their periodical publications. By focusing on practices of textual transfer (e.g. translations, interviews, reviews), processes of transnational collaboration and individual editorial strategies, this seminar will shed light on the content, structure and functions of women-edited periodicals in the long nineteenth century. Furthermore, by analysing how these processes unfolded in the larger publishing landscape of Europe and America, the two geographical focuses of the papers, this seminar will also seek to present new sources and interpretative suggestions concerning the evolution of the print-culture in the two continents.

The selected papers will discuss the role of the periodical editor in mediating between private and public as well as between cultures, the reception of women’s periodicals by the readers, and finally, the networks of co-operation that women editors established through their travels. These topics will forge new pathways towards a better understanding of women’s editorial strategies and will help revalorise their contribution to the field of cultural production. Through a close reading of articles, editorials, and chronicles, this seminar will also bring to light some of the mechanisms by which editors evaluated, promoted or advertised the writings of female authors and poets. This approach will offer the possibility to explore processes of decision-making, which shaped the literary landscape of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The analysis and interpretation of such processes will reveal the formal properties of each particular periodical and will also advance our understanding of the press in relation to the literary market. To this end, the periodical’s power to shape public opinion and taste will be the subject of closer scrutiny.

A brief presentation of the speakers will offer a more detailed view of the main subjects, positions, and questions to be discussed. The first speaker of the seminar, Prof. Brian Gabrial (Concordia University), will address Willa Cather’s contribution to the McClure’s Magazine. Her editorial strategies will be examined alongside her controversy with the author Georgine Milmine. The second speaker, Prof. Cristina Gragnani (Temple University), will explain how the Italian women editors, Anna Franchi and Matilde Serao, used narrative strategies to support Italy’s entry into World War I as well as to construct masculinity and patriotism in their newspaper articles and columns. My personal contribution to the seminar will bring to light Matilde Serao’s role as an editor and a salon chronicler. Through an analysis of her newspaper La Settimana, I will argue that the transnational character of her salon in Naples enhanced the dissemination of her journalistic writings. Following this presentation, Prof. Christine Spreizer (Queens College, CUNY) will discuss the emergence of the German periodical Die Welt der Frau, which highlighted women’s growing national and international achievements and accomplishments within their respective economic, political, social and cultural fields. Charlotte D’Eer, the other WeChangEd researcher attending the conference, will seek to elucidate the personal elements in Louise Aston’s periodical Der Freischärler. This paper will place a particular emphasis on Aston’s letters and personal documents, which helped to shape her editorial decisions and strategies. By doing so, Charlotte will trace the influence of the personal on women editorship and its resonance beyond German borders. Finally, Dr. Claudia Montero (Universidad de Valparaíso) will discuss the reception of female periodical editors in Chile. This contribution will seek to explain how women’s participation in the press industry changed the public perception of the cultural field.

Through these presentations, scholars will be encouraged to explore possible avenues for theoretical reflection on editorship by studying periodical publications across linguistic, socio-cultural and historical boundaries. Transnational perspectives on female editorship will be discussed extensively because they offer a comparative viewpoint and a complementary insight into women’s position as makers of culture, arbiters of social values and proponents of their rights. By doing so, this seminar will ultimately provide a firm ground for the study of periodicals as primary research material, in addition to opening new horizons in exploring women’s participation in the public discourse.