Returning to the Page: Visualising Design and Desire in Fan Magazines

We are very exited about our upcoming conference and exhibition which will take place online from the 8-13th February 2021. While it was disappointing to have to postpone the exhibition from May 2020, it has given us the opportunity to organise a related conference. We are especially delighted that Sally Stein will be our keynote.

Please see the CFP below and email us on with any abstracts or questions!

Returning to the Page: Visualising Design and Desire in Fan Magazines

8-13 February 2021

Keynote: Sally Stein, Professor Emerita, University of California, Irvine
This conference is designed as a sequel to our 2015 event Turning the Page: Digitization, movie magazines and historical audience studies. That conference focused on the development of the study of historical fan magazines in recent decades, with a particular emphasis on the impact of increased digitization (by the Media History Digital Library, among others) on this development. In this context, we particularly emphasised the importance of “reclaiming” the fan magazine – an ephemeral and often academically neglected object – as an important research tool for the study of stars, fans, Hollywood and non-Hollywood film industries and cultures, and more.  

The purpose of this follow-up event is two-fold. Firstly, we wish to investigate the ways in which the field of historical fan magazine studies has evolved over the past five years. Secondly, we wish to focus, for this event, specifically on the design of the magazines and the relationship between the visual aspects of the publications and their contents. This choice is partly motivated by the online nature of the conference: since we will all be consuming the conference papers on a small screen, this format is excellently suited to an in-depth and detailed study of magazines’ visual elements.

With this focus, we particularly want to emphasise the importance of talking about the fan magazine holistically, as a complete and multi-layered object often consumed by its original readers in unorthodox and non-linear ways. As Sally Stein noted in the context of Ladies Home Journal in 1985:
“Studies of magazines have usually treated literary texts, or editorial images, or ads, as independent entities, and have proceeded to analyze their meanings divorced from their original context. This strategy flattens our conception of the way magazines came to be assembled and then received. For these elements are certainly not apprehended in isolation; rather images and texts, ads and editorial matter, are each designed to work off each other within the larger ensemble of the magazine.” (Stein, 1985: 7)

While some scholars have appreciated this importance of taking a holistic approach, we believe that much coverage of the fan magazine as a research object still tends to treat the visual and textual elements as easily separable from each other, failing to appreciate the holistic reading experience these periodicals offered their readers, who often consumed them in their available “scraps of time.” (Stein, 1985: 6)

The organisers are delighted to announce that an online exhibition devoted to movie magazines will be held at the same time as the conference. “Design and Desire: The Glamorous History of the Movie Magazine” relates the history of the movie magazine from its modest beginnings in New York in 1911, via its global spread and glamorous heyday in the 1930s, to its decline and absorption into the celebrity gossip publications we know today. In their heyday in the 1930s, there were more than twenty movie magazines released every month in the USA alone. Providing information on new releases but even more on their stars, movie magazines purveyed more than – often dubious – facts: primarily they sold dreams, just as movies themselves did. This exhibition relates the story of these glamorous publications through displays, maps, music, films and interactive features.
We welcome abstracts of 350 words for recorded PowerPoint presentations, as well as video essays or other digitally shareable innovative approaches. The conference, which is free to attend, will make selected presentations available asynchronously, while a number of scheduled live sessions will also be organised via the Zoom platform, including a roundtable focusing on archives and digitization.

We encourage colleagues to consult the excellent online collections of movie magazines at and, amongst others, in preparing their submissions. 
Presentation topics may include but are not limited to:

  • Visual analysis of a historically significant single magazine
  • Synchronic or diachronic investigation of multiple magazines
  • Comparisons of different magazines’ treatment of specific stars, films or products
  • Assessments of magazines’ different reading strategies
  • Consideration of the dominance of Photoplay in recent scholarly work on movie magazines
  • Approaches to studying the fan magazine in the age of the pandemic
  • Examinations of the importance of the magazine cover

The closing date for submissions is midnight (BST) on 20 November, and authors will be notified of acceptance by 4 December 2020. Recorded presentations will be due by mid-January 2021. Please submit your abstract to

Conference organisers: Tamar Jeffers McDonald, Lies Lanckman and Sarah Polley

Twitter: @design_desire

Instagram: design_desire2020

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