With regard to increasingly efficient digitizations, of which we intensely profit, particularly in lockdown, allow me to add a caveat: a researcher, even a very experienced one, who has worked on digital media thanks to the programs and achievements that guarantee access today, is always surprised by the discovery of the very same periodical on paper. Why is that? Because giving access to the original document is not a substitute for it. Digitization is mediatization, a reinterpretation of one medium by another (remediation according to the term used by Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin in Remediation. Understanding New Media, Cambridge (Ma), MIT Press, 1992). In other words, we deal with a medium transformed by another. The periodical was born in print ecology and makes sense in relation to it. Studying it in its original form and on paper is as instructive as digitized and easy access, even when we think we know it. These two ways of studying periodicals are complementary and not interchangeable. Each has its own advantages, but neither can replace the other.
Further, in relation to big data and slow reading, Matthew Creasy has a paper we translated in French on ‘Decadence in the Digital Age: Paul Verlaine and Victorian Periodicals’, RHLF, 2020:1 (special issue ‘“Small magazines”, newspapers and publishing at the end of the 19th century’, ed. by Alexia Kalantzis and Evanghelia Stead), p. 59-75).
Many thanks for this, Evanghelia. If you have permission to reproduce the Creasy article, I would be happy to post it (as a linked pdf) on our Articles page.
Studying digital facsimiles is, undoubtedly, not the same as exploring physical magazines. I've worked almost exclusively with digital; I've mostly handled physical copies only to take photographs. Some kinds of study seem much easier with digital copies: if you're ranging across multiple issues in pursuit of a theme. What insights, in particular, do you gain from handling the original materials?
Many thanks for your questions, Tim ! I am afraid the Creasy article only came out a month ago and it will not be publicly accessible before one year at least. See here for the French version : https://classiques-garnier.com/revue-d-histoire-litteraire-de-la-france-1-2020-120e-annee-n-1-petites-revues-grande-presse-et-edition-a-la-fin-du-xixe-siecle.html. But Matthew is following this conference and would like perhaps to post an English summary on the topic how to combine digital data and slow reading? Just an idea…
Now to the key question, insights from handling material: it all depends on how you look at a periodical and what your consider, just contents (text, perhaps images, but thinking of them as illustrations and developping binary relations text/image) or the periodical as a performing whole (I would need a paper to elaborate on this with examples showing clear differences between remediations, but see briefly in La Chair du livre. Matérialité, poétique et imaginaire du livre fin-de-siècle, 2012, p. 89-100 on periodicals). If you like, it is what Jerome McGann calls the bibliographical and the linguistic code. I believe that work on periodicals should bear on both. Digitisation does not allow for the bibliographical code (materiality), which is one essential and performing part of the periodical (even if it does not have images, I am not talking specifically about images).
When we started work on periodicals we asked people to both look at them and read them. A look at L'Europe des revues (1880-1920). Estampes, photographie, illustrations (Paris, PUPS, 2008, reprinted 2011) and its introduction gives some insights into this. Further, I directed Philipp Leu's thesis (defended in 2016) on Digitization of Art and Literature Periodicals and Heritage Politics: Philipp did this within the BnF with a Gallica tutor; he did a great job comparing the Gallica periodical digitizations with other ones around the world (Yellow Nineties on line, a couple of German ones, archive.org, etc.) See here : https://bnf.hypotheses.org/1190 and here : https://fsp.hypotheses.org/428. He is now working with Retronews at the BnF and I hope we will soon publish his work !