Pages from the Past: History and Memory in American Magazines

Article excerpt

* Pages from the Past: History and Memory in American Magazines. Carolyn Kitch. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005. 256 pp. $49.95 hbk. $18.95 pbk.

In The Girl on the Magazine Cover: The Origins of Visual Stereotypes in American Mass Media, Carolyn Kitch argues contemporary stereotypes of women derive from idealistic-in both the positive and negative meaning of that word-cover and advertising illustrations of the New Woman that emerged in a variety of mass circulation magazines between 1890 and 1930, the period in which magazines developed as the first national media. Essentially, in this early examination of the influence of magazines on American culture, Kitch narrowly focuses her booklength argument on the lasting impact of artists' repetitive images and framing techniques on the definition of women and women's roles in the twentieth century. Her analysis offers important insights about the intersection of social change, gender relations, media, and promotional culture as the country entered a new century.

In Pages from the Past, Kitch also examines how magazines shape readers' understanding of American culture-past, present, and future. In this second book, however, Kitch wraps her argument around the abstract concept, and one growing in popularity among cultural historians, of collective memory. Employing this concept, she asserts that first magazines and later movies and television-through selectivity, repetition, and revision-have framed historical events, experiences, commodities, personages, generations, and periods into a simplified, shared, individually and collectively meaningful memory of U.S. life.

Unlike the focused argument of her first book, though, Pages from the Past follows the sense-making processes of collective memory creation through a variety of magazine phenomena. These include newsmagazine use of the decade as a summary device to construct a seemingly unified historical narrative that emphasizes commonalities across decades while differentiating the decades through contrast and labeling; newsmagazine application of a World War II conception of male heroism to events, the first responders, and soldiers in Iraq following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon; increasing magazine memorialization of celebrities in profiles that link their too-short lives with the experiences of ordinary citizens; creation and celebration in Ebony and American Legacy of a created historical narrative in which past and contemporary African Americans can place themselves; newsmagazine labeling in cover stories of supposed divergent generations, from the Greatest Generation to Generation Y, with the baby boomers serving as touchstone in this narrative; the popularity and centrality of such nostalgia magazines as Reminisce and Good Old Days for a fading generation convinced that the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, or 1950s better represent traditional American values than does the contemporary world; and magazine dependence on anniversary issues, whether of a short five years or an entire century, to weave historical narratives in which recycled editorial content merges with and defines American culture for readers. …