Division of Space: Contextualizing Advertisements in Canadian Modernist Periodicals

Division of Space logoThis new media research project studies and documents the historical, bibliographical and interpretive relationship between ads and literary materials in sample issues of Canadian modernist periodicals.

The objective of this project is to produce a searchable, hypertext edition, enhanced by rich contextual and historical information, that will, firstly, put Canadian modernist works in touch with the commercial, social, political and historical contexts that informed the publishing industry in Canada. Secondly, it will enable and support analytical procedures unavailable in Print formats through the analysis of the textual juxtaposition of ads and other types of materials located between the covers of sample issues of selected Canadian literary periodicals.

During the rise of modernism, periodical publishing was profoundly affected by the economics of the publishing industry. In an effort to boost readership, periodical publishers increased their advertising space so as to lower subscription and newsstand prices. Thus, literary works were published alongside ads that targeted the literary community by advertising books, print houses, stationery and second-hand bookstores. Yet, when we look at the enormous bibliographical data embedded in ads, it becomes clear that these ads exceed their commercial dimension, functioning as an intrinsic textual feature.

Positing advertisements as one of the many communication circuits and optional codes that guide us in reading modernist literature outside the traditional aesthetic model, the current project seeks a new XML vocabulary for bibliographical and contextual representation of ads in the online web-based environment. It aims to visualize the interplay between ads and other materials in modernist periodicals, to recover the reading experience during the time these periodicals were published, and to enable further research of the contribution of ads to the study of modernism.

The organization of the digital content of this project is based on the understanding that ads and other items in periodicals are present in the same space and time as historical objects. For example, an ad for a second-hand book store in Toronto can be closely connected with editorials in the periodical, since they both respond to the same events and historical moment. For this reason, the analysis of the ads-texts interaction and the archiving of selected periodical issues will revolve around the network of publishers, typesetters, editors and advertising agencies associated with modernist literary periodicals in Canada.

By providing digital facsimiles of print-based Canadian periodicals, this project will also ensure the preservation and archiving of periodicals in pristine condition and provide web-based access for the research and study of Canadian modernism.


The first literary periodicals for which this project is hoping to secure copyright permission to put sample issues online are the following:

The Canadian Bookman. This was a specialized periodical dedicated to promoting the literary and artistic culture of Canada. Its focus was books and authors, literary criticism, publishing, bookselling and the library profession. The Bookman commenced publication in 1914 in Toronto as a monthly and lasted for one year. The periodical re-emerged, briefly, in 1915 as The Canadian Bookseller & Library Journal and, finally, took hold as the Canadian Bookman in 1919 to last twenty-two years, ceasing with the October/November issue of 1941. Courtesy of the Thomas Fisher Library, early issues of the Bookman are already available on the web at: http://www.archive.org/details/canadianbookmanm00toro

New Frontier (Apr.1936–Oct.1937, v. 1–2, no. 5). This was a left-wing journal published in Toronto. Work on this journal will emphasize the different audiences to which the editors were trying to market literature and social criticism. Therefore, the analysis will consider its ads as agents devoted to the promotion of certain political views.

Project Leader: Ravit H. David

Contact: Ravit.david@utoronto.ca

Website: www.itch4knowledge.com

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