Magazines, Travel And Middlebrow Culture In Canada 1925-1960.

  • Hammill, Faye (Principal Investigator)

Project: Research

Project Details


This research focuses on an area of Canadian print culture which, though extremely influential, has been almost entirely neglected by critics: the middlebrow periodical market. It investigates the aspirational dimension of Canadian middlebrow culture, using magazine writing on travel as a focus. The aims are to understand the role of magazines in circulating fantasies of cosmopolitanism and upward mobility, to explore exchanges between anglophone and francophone cultures in the pages of magazines, and to examine the self-conscious ways in which the magazines place themselves and their readers in relation to the social and cultural hierarchies. In the earlier 20th century, Canadian literary and commercial discourses consistently highlighted Paris, London and New York as centres of culture and taste. Their desirability as travel destinations was enhanced by their combination of the exotic and the familiar; although culturally and linguistically intelligible places, they also focussed white Canadians' anxieties about their intimate yet vexed post/colonial relationships with America and Europe. The research explores the conflicted representation of European cities as centres of nostalgia and origin, on the one hand, and sites of urban sophistication, on the other. It also examines resonances with government-sponsored periodical advertising of Montreal as a city combining European flair with North American modernity. More broadly, the project traces the magazines' strategies for recasting geographical mobility as a form of upward mobility, and for distinguishing leisure travel from the enforced movement of migration and diaspora. It investigates how foreign and domestic travel were marketed using competing narratives of modernity versus pristine natural beauty, and how the presentation of travel and foreignness was inflected by the consumerist and nationalist agendas which, to varying extents, shaped all the magazines included in our study. Finally, it tests the hypothesis that travel and its associated narratives actually enabled important cultural exchanges within Canada, as magazines became key sites for interaction across linguistic boundaries. The method involves detailed study of advertisements, travel features and fictions of travel published between the 1920s and 1950s in La Revue Populaire, Chatelaine, Maclean's, the Canadian Home Journal, La Revue Moderne, Le Samedi, Saturday Night and Mayfair. Comparative readings will work along three axes: chronological (shifts over time), geographical (destinations represented), and cultural (francophone / anglophone magazines). The magazines will be considered in the context of broader developments in transatlantic middlebrow culture, and in relation to Canadian travel writing and fictions of travel published in book format during the same period. The research begins in 1925, the year the word 'middlebrow' first appeared in print. The decade following WWI, a period of developing cultural nationalism, saw the establishment of several of the most important mainstream Canadian magazines, and the growth in circulation of existing titles. We will investigate exchanges of personnel, contributors and ideas among these magazines, and particularly across the language boundary. The study concludes in 1960, a point when the magazine market was undergoing significant transformation as middlebrow titles were merged, discontinued or reinvented in more popular formats. Our interpretations will be informed by an attention to the materiality of the page and an understanding of the practical imperatives of the periodical marketplace. The results of our research will resonate with current debates in Canada and the UK about the funding and subsidy of magazines and about language policy in relation to the press. The project arises from the AHRC Middlebrow Network, and will be conducted in partnership with the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory (CWRC) and Library Archives Canada.

Key findings

"The research tests the hypothesis that travel is a part of the middlebrow, aspirant psyche - a symbol of achievement, cultural literacy, savoir-faire and personal means - and that magazines are key to creating a link between travel and upward mobility. Focusing on the area of the Canadian periodical market which falls between 'little magazines' and mass-circulation pulps or tabloids, we investigated strategies used by advertisers, feature writers and fiction editors to present travel as a marker of distinction and cosmopolitanism. The project examines how periodicals usually associated with domesticity (e.g. Canadian Home Journal; La Revue Populaire) actually provided a vicarious experience of the foreign, but we also theorise that conservative middlebrow publications were concerned to render the foreign less threatening. They therefore favoured cities such as London, Paris and New York, which seemed to combine a sophistication unavailable in Canada with the familiarity derived from a common language and history.

We selected the six titles featured here because of the keen insights they can offer into the development of middlebrow culture. These particular periodicals were at their peak in the years 1925-60. This is not a coincidence; rather, we argue, the texts and tastes circulated via such periodicals were instrumental in constructing the middlebrow. Middlebrow culture is an especially exciting area of interdisciplinary study. The term dates back to 1925 when Punch defined middlebrows as 'people who are hoping that some day they will get used to the stuff they ought to like.' These days, cultural historians, scholars of print culture, and literary, film, art and music critics - many of whom have met and collaborated through the Middlebrow Network - are engaged in re-evaluating the institutions of middlebrow culture in the context of debates about taste, class, and self-improvement. Important discussions centre on whether 'middlebrow' can usefully refer to an area of cultural production, or only to audiences and reception practices. This contested term brings with it precisely the 'cultural baggage' which interests"
Effective start/end date1/05/1130/04/13


  • AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council): £218,363.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.
  • Magazines and / as Media

    Hammill, F.


    Project: Research