This week, I put the finishing touches on my exhibit and published it to the CCEPS Omeka website. Wrapping up the project, I get to reflect on the experience of engaging with primary sources, digitizing them, and presenting them to be read by the public. After this summer, I feel much more equipped to complete humanities-based research. I’ve learned how to review literature and find relevant secondary sources and databases. More interesting, however, is the new perspective I gained towards the process of data analysis. As a statistics student, I work a lot in large sets of raw data. The primary sources are, in many ways, like that raw data. To researchers, by themselves, large volumes of magazines are very difficult to interpret without first deciding which data is most important to look at, and what they are looking for within that data. They then must come up with a process for organizing and analyzing the data.
We, as researchers, get to influence truth by framing and choosing which data to include and deem relevant in our projects. We can seek to process materials responsibly, but we must also recognize our biases going into projects. I wanted to find a point to prove when I entered this project, but I learned that the data was far too large, expansive, and incomplete to prove one large point. If I want to continue my research in the future, I must find more qualifiable and specific data to trace a specific phenomenon. I home that through my broad framing of the primary source data available at the Claremont Colleges Library and Ella Strong Denison Library, I can encourage others to access the materials which will hold so many answers when we learn to ask strong questions.
As I spent much of this week scanning the materials I want to use for my exhibit, I reflected much on the nature of imagery and photography. Current magazines print mostly photographs, but magazines have been printed since long before the invention of photography. Early magazines included fashion plates, which involved an artist drawing the current fashions, engraving a steel fashion plate, and printing it. These prints were then hand colored. This was a very basic technology and required that the sketch have a certain level of simplicity so that it could be engraved into the steel fashion plate and easily colored. Photography allowed the images of fashion to be much more accurate and detailed. It also allowed the women modelling fashion to be in a certain place.
The location of the photo shoot plays a big role in developing the identity attached to the fashion. Fashion shoots took place in cities, in natural settings, and overseas. Each decision around setting meant something to the reader. Was the fashion meant for a city girl? A country girl? Fashions shot in the West, in places like California, were described in accompanying captions differently than those shot in the industrial cities of the East. This also made me think of modern-day Instagram influencers, who use backdrops to say something about their own identities when showing off fashions. Are they thrill-seeking travelers, relaxed beachgoers, or metropolitan workers? And if you wear the same clothes that they do, are you channeling those same identities?
This week I looked at Vogue, Mademoiselle, and Harper’s Bazaar magazines from the second half of the 20thcentury. One of the most interesting issues I saw was a 1965 issue of Vogue entitled “The New Way: to be in fashion and stay an individual.” The 1960’s is the first time I’ve witnessed the theme of individuality in women’s fashion magazines. This focus on individuality in the 1960’s was not limited to fashion—many sought individuality in ideological thought in reaction to the political turbulence of the time. This showed me how technology may have aided individuality as an aspect of identity, but other factors, both social and political, also influenced the development of individual identities over time. Vogue repeatedly encouraged women to express that individuality through fashion in the 1960’s. This may have been a pivotal moment in linking fashion so strongly to individual identity.
Last week provided the opportunity to reflect on the nature of special collections and the preservation of historic materials. I intended to look at fashion magazines from the early 20th century but found that there were very few in our holdings at Denison Library. I began to develop hypotheses as to why this might be. Perhaps it was due to the founding of Scripps College in 1926—maybe magazines at this time were not preserved because of the relative newness of the college, and not donated later on because women no longer collected and bound volumes of magazines. Maybe the economic hardships caused by World Wars I and II and the Great Depression led to less magazine purchases and printings.
I decided to research this phenomenon and found that magazines were printed and consumed during the early 20thcentury, but they contained more advertisements and Hollywood gossip than the traditional literary magazine. Initially, short stories were printed serially in magazines with the intent to enrich the minds of the reader. As advertisers became more interested in purchasing magazine space, and films led to a new interest in Hollywood, the magazine industry shifted to meet different demands from the public. This would mean that the magazines contained less information that would be pertinent beyond this season in which it was published. I imagine this is one of the reasons why magazines were not bound into volumes and saved as they had previously been in the 18th and 19th centuries.
This week taught me that it can be just as important to consider which materials we do not have. Whose stories were not deemed “literary” or important to contain in a library? As I read a historical account of Women’s Periodicals claiming to study only “mainstream” magazines, I noticed that the author identified mainstream to mean white and middle-class. This book was written in the early 2000’s. Our society, for too long, valued the history that was pertinent to this narrow “mainstream”. As I continue my research, I intend to showcase not only what the library has collected, but also what it may be missing. I hope that through online archives, I will be able to reveal the missing pieces in the exhibit.
This week passed in a whirl of empire waistlines, girdles, and bonnets with plumes. I’ve decided on a topic for my research in philosophy of technology and women’s fashion magazines—identity. I hope to explore the ways in which technological changes have allowed for hyper-individualized identities as expressed by adherence to certain fashion trends. Through this exploration, I will gain a better understanding of how and why identities tended away from geographic location (such as ‘southern’) and towards more niche identities based on shared experience of race, sexuality, aesthetic preference, or value systems.
Going in chronological order, I began viewing the earliest women’s publications, starting in the late 18th century. I then continued through the 19th century. From about 1750-1865, publications were still relatively expensive. As a result, they focused on providing literary enrichment and fashion news for the elite, those who could read and afford to purchase the magazines. However, around 1865, magazines began to focus on a wider readership. Technological advancements of thinner, cheaper paper, “Linotype” letterpress setters, and advancements in replicating drawings all allowed for magazines to be produced for a middle-and even lower-class audience. The broader audience encouraged the use of advertisements to fund magazines. As a result, magazines became even cheaper as they were funded by advertisers rather than the full burden of production cost falling on the consumer.
As a result of these technological innovations, content of the magazines began to target those who made their own clothes, rather than only women with dressmakers. Instructions for patterns began to appear in issues, such as the one below. It is from the Peterson’s Magazine March 1887 issue.
Another interesting technological change which impacted appeals to identity was the development of more vivid paints. Fashion plates were hand-painted, and as this process became more refined and elaborate over the course of the 19th century, more attention was devoted to coloring the skin of the women wearing the dresses. In 1845, the women (while still having a distinctly “European” look) lacked any distinguishing color beyond the occasional dot of red blush on the cheeks. By 1876, the women were cleared painted a vivid peachy shade. This shows that as technology advanced, the women were identified by race or skin color in the fashion plates.
This week, I’ve touched women’s fashion magazines from as early as 1788, advertised as a “Polite, Entertaining, and Fashionable Companion for the Fair Sex,” and as late as 2022, flaunting an article on “The Real Dua Lipa: Optimist, Advocate, Pop Sensation.” Through these magazines, it is clear to see that much has changed in the last 3 centuries. Political, economic, religious, and technological factors have shaped the structure of societies and the role of women within them.
Looking at these magazines through the philosophy of technology lens, I will isolate those aspects of change and continuity that are a result of technological innovation. The relationship between the individual and certain technologies informs many aspects of life. Some concepts that have jumped out to me this week are those of identity, trust, power, and values.
One thing I noticed as I viewed magazines from a broad temporal scope was the importance of gaining the trust of readers. Many women used fashion magazines to inform their decisions about what to wear and how to present themselves. Before widely available photographs made it possible to see what people were wearing in such fashion hubs as London and Paris, editors relied on detailed letter correspondence to learn about current fashion trends from those in Europe. They then shared these descriptions and drawings with readers, and readers trusted that they were accurate. One particularly fascinating article in Godey’s Lady’s Book (1855) advertised that fashion editors would pick dresses or bonnets for rural women and ship them from New York City for a fee. The women using this service were placing a large amount of trust in unnamed fashion editors via mail correspondence. As technology evolved, women no longer had to rely on fashion editors to buy dresses sight-unseen. Now, without leaving the comfort of their homes, women have access to almost every article of clothing available via online shopping. This leaves very little need to trust others in decisions related to fashion, which many consider to be an outward expression of identity.
As a CCEPS fellow, I am taking a somewhat different approach than most. Instead of cataloguing a specific collection, I will be conducting a research project in the general fields of philosophy of technology and women’s fashion. Using materials from both the special collections at Honnold-Mudd Library and Ella Strong Denison Library, I intend to curate an online Omeka exhibit for students studying philosophy of technology and those interested in the way new technologies shape our values, identity, and structures of power.
This week, I had the privilege of touring the book rooms of both Honnold-Mudd and Denison Library. I got to touch books that would fit in the palm of your hand, as well as books so large I would need to team lift them. At Denison, I got to see and touch an early version of a hymnal made of real parchment. The stars of the show were artists books. Denison collects artists books, which are books designed by artists where special attention is paid to design an its connection to the words inside. Some of these books looked like very beautiful books, while some looked like a cell phone in a shoe, or a wallet. Seeing these books was a perfect way to begin my experience as a CCEPS student. I hope that my project will encourage more people to come into the book room and experience old and rare books for themselves.
Touching these rare books further reinforced my interest in philosophy of technology. Books created by hand before the advent of the printing press employed agriculturalists to grow and harvest cow skin, specialists to write each letter by hand, and artists to design cover pages, each costing countless hours in training and labor. These expensive books contributed to an entirely different power structure than mass-produced paperbacks, or further, an exclusively electronic book written and produced by the same person. Those who owned books in the 14th century would have power in the form of both money and of information. Today, books give power in the form of knowledge to anyone with a library card (and time to read.) Asking questions about the way that technology informs power, values, and identity is a fascinating way to view the world. It will become extremely important as the world becomes more and more reliant on the connection through the internet and as artificial intelligence becomes more prevalent.