Scottish Independent Media: Then and Now (video)

Here’s a recording of our fourth event, which explored shifts in Scottish politics, media and publishing over the past few decades, and the place of small independent magazines in those changes.

Our panellists:

      • Jamie Maxwell – journalist and editor (Politico, Foreign Policy, New Left Review)
      • Mike Small – writer, researcher and editor (Bella Caledonia, Red Herring/Product, Indymedia Scotland)

Other contributors to the discussion include Douglas Robertson (Radical Scotland) and Rory Scothorne (New Statesman).

Lesley Riddoch was unable to join us on the day, but adds her reflections on Harpies and Quines in the video below.

You can find a full listing of the network’s events here.

Future Issues: Event 3 Digest

Our third event, held 24 June, was entitled ‘Future Issues: Digitising Twentieth-Century Magazines’.

This was a wide-ranging exploration of the why and how of digitising periodicals, including opportunities for co-production of digital resources with ‘memory institutions’ such as libraries and archives. We also examined the challenge posed by post-Brexit copyright law, and a compelling – indeed, heart-wrenching – case study of its practical impact for magazine studies, reviewing the British Library’s major digitisation project on Spare Rib (2013-21).

Our first speaker, Professor Lorna M. Hughes, offered a valuable tour d’horizon of recent digitisation practice, from basic ‘digital photocopying’ (simply giving access to an online repository of scanned pages) to more enriched approaches offering ‘added value’ (to researchers, to the public, to specific user-communities). Professor Hughes emphasised models of co-production and ‘slow digitisation’ which treat the move online as a process of discovery, connection-making and knowledge creation, allowing new questions and ways of reading to emerge along the way. In this perspective, the tasks of forming the digital resource (e.g. identifying rights holders, checking and authoring metadata, developing user tools for analysis) become an active, creative, experimental part of the research process itself. This approach both requires and exploits sustained engagement with complementary materials (e.g. linking digitised magazines to contemporaneous newspaper collections), and deepens relationships between researchers, copyright holders and archivists in a paradigm of ‘co-curation’.

In illustrating these possibilities – which are rarely utilised to the full in magazine digitisation – Professor Hughes touched on a range of relevant projects and platforms, operating within various legal frameworks (US, EU, UK, ??).

Instead of seeing digital collections as ‘destinations’ – where digitised content is created in a top-down way and ‘pushed out to users’ – Professor Hughes invited us to view digitation ‘as a journey of creation that brings lots of disparate experts into the conversation’, both uncovering and generating new scholarly possibilities.

This was an inspiring account of the varied purposes and potentials of digitisation, but tempered by awareness of the time, labour and resources required to go beyond digital photocopying. (The term ‘slow digitisation’ tells its own story: one involving hands-on openness to the unplanned and unfunded.) Our next speaker was Fredric Saunderson, Rights and Information Manager at the National Library of Scotland. He gave a lucid introduction to another constraining factor in digitisation – that of copyright law – while highlighting some possibilities amid the prohibitions.

After a crash-course on the essentials of copyright, Saunderson explained the two main paths for re-use of in-copyright works (such as the post-1960s magazines on which this project is focused): seeking permission from all copyright holders, or utilising legal exceptions to copyright (allowances defined and limited in law, with no permission required).

Libraries and archives have special affordances in UK law, and may create digital copies of in-copyright works for preservation purposes, ‘for text and data analysis for non-commercial research’, and on several other grounds (e.g. disability access). There are intriguing possibilities in this area – for text and data mining, for onsite access to preservation copies – but also strict controls. In navigating this terrain, Saunderson helpfully emphasised the key legal difference between a) digitising material and b) making use of digitised material (where, for what purpose, how?). It’s the latter that defines the viability of a digital resource within this legal framework.

Where does this leave our aspirations to digitise post-1960s Scottish magazines? At the genesis of this research network, there was cautious optimism that the key legal provision relevant to in-copyright magazines (and indeed all mass digitisation of in-copyright cultural heritage in Europe), the EU Orphan Works Exception (OWE) introduced in 2012, would remain part of UK law after withdrawal from the European Union.[1] That’s not how things turned out, and the OWE was repealed from UK law effective January 2021.

The impact of this change was vividly illustrated by our final speaker, Dr Polly Russell of the British Library, who led the Library’s massive Spare Rib digitisation project (2013-21). Spare Rib was a leading British feminist magazine active from 1972 to 1993, and the digitisation emerged from the BL’s Sisterhood & After project, an oral history of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Building on clear public interest in the magazine and its legacy, the Spare Rib digitisation was aimed at researchers seeking a full searchable archive, but also a more general audience of teachers, students and interested members of the public.

Dr Russell gave us a detailed overview of the project’s evolution – from scoping the resource, consulting with founding members of the magazine collective, developing a suitable archive platform (via Jisc Journal Archives), photographing magazines and authoring metadata – and legal developments which sadly required the closure of the digital resource earlier this year.

Of particular interest were the project’s struggles with copyright clearance, despite the formidable resources of the BL, significant volunteer labour, and the affordances – at the time, new and untested affordances – of the OWE. The nature of periodicals multiplied the legal and practical challenges at issue: each issue of Spare Rib included a wide variety of content, such as photographs, poems and commissioned essays, with up to eight copyright holders on a single page. Much of this content was produced by ordinary women who were very challenging to identify and locate for copyright purposes.[2]

In the initial stage of copyright clearance, a small army of volunteers sampled 20% of the magazine’s full run, in which they identified 1400 copyright holders. The team successfully contacted 400 of these individuals, with only two requesting that their material be redacted from the digital resource. On the basis of this very low rate of redaction (0.5%), the Library went ahead with digitising the full magazine, and identified a further 4500 copyright holders to contact (seeking permission) or add to the EU’s orphan works database. After the digital archive’s initial launch in 2015, organisations representing the rights of copyright holders raised concerns about some content classified as orphan, and a second process of copyright clearance resulted in redaction of 30% of the resource (around 1000 items), which the Library agreed could not be proven to fall within the OWE. After Brexit, the OWE itself was repealed – the legal basis for clearing around 80% of items in the collection – and the resource had to be taken down.

The scale, value and richness of the Spare Rib archive make the story of its rise and fall truly poignant. It is little short of tragic that the full-run archive is no longer available, but note that the BL’s curated learning site on Spare Rib is still available, including 300 items of (non-orphan) cleared content from the magazine, over 20 high-quality contextual articles, photographs, maps visualising networks of second-wave feminist activity across the UK (based on Spare Rib group and event listings), and links to oral histories. To highlight one example, this excellent primer on the 60s underground press by Marsha Rowe is of direct relevance to several SMN titles.

Dr Russell closed with some lessons learned during the project, including evidence of growing public demand for in-copyright periodical material, the need for clear policy on redaction and takedown, and that copyright clearance – even within the affordances of the OWE, now withdrawn – can be very expensive and time-consuming.

This was a sobering (and sometimes jaw-dropping) case-study, which gives the network a great deal to think about in regard to our own plans and objectives. In subsequent discussion, Graeme Hawley and Lorna Hughes discussed the importance of active engagement with copyright holders, which can become a valuable part of the process, drawing people into the project and letting them become stakeholders (and future audiences) in ways that enrich and expand the collection. Several members of the network expressed interest in ‘slow digitisation’ along these lines, creating enhanced digital collections focused on a more manageable subset of material – over which online audiences can ‘linger’ – rather than a full archive. But there are clear trade-offs here, in moving away from a searchable resource (e.g. of a magazine’s full run) that would permit large-scale analysis, comparison, text-mining and the more innovative sorts of periodical research Clifford Wulfman associates with the truly ‘digital library’.[3]

This was a hugely useful and stimulating exploration of the terrain, and its obstacles, which the network will spend some time digesting before we consider our own next steps in regard to digitisation. Our deep thanks to all the speakers.

With thanks to Alice Piotrowska, and her notes!

[1] Though its repeal from UK law creates significant obstacles for digitisation projects – and resulted in the takedown of the BL’s Spare Rib project – the EU Orphan Works Exception (OWE) is no panacea. For a concise outline of its limitations, see James Boyle, ‘(When) Is Copyright Reform Possible? Lessons from the Hargreaves Review’ (2015), section IIc: ‘In brief, the scheme is heavily institutional, statist, and inflexible. Its provisions can really only be used by educational and cultural heritage institutions, only for non-profit purposes, with lengthy and costly licensing provisions designed to protect the monetary interests of – almost certainly – non-existent rights holders. The EU seemed never to grasp the idea that citizens also need to have access to orphan works, for uses that almost certainly present no threat to any living rights holder.’

[2] Note that the OWE still required an extensive ‘diligent search’ to trace copyright holders. A work only becomes ‘orphan’ – and eligible for the associated exception or licensing scheme – when ‘it is established that the owner of the copyright cannot be identified, or if identified cannot be located’. (NB the UK’s own orphan works licensing scheme still operates, but the EU-wide OWE scheme enabled by the 2012 Orphan Works Directive has been repealed from UK law, creating risks of infringement for UK projects constructed within this framework.)

[3] ‘But what happens if you encode metadata directly into the texts themselves? If, for example, you mark up the structure of complex publications, like magazines, you can pose and answer interesting contextual questions. Let’s say you had a textbase of structured transcriptions of magazines that distinguished among pages and blocks of advertising and content. You might then be able to pose this sort of question: how many short stories by Faulkner and Hemingway were printed alongside ads for sporting goods?’ Clifford Wulfman, ‘The Rise and Fall of Periodical Studies’, Journal of Modern Periodical Studies 8.2 (2017): 226-41 (p. 234).

‘Mind that Magazine?’ Event 2 Digest

The public launch of the network was held 12 May 2021, as an audience of 40 scholars, students and former editors gathered (online) to ‘Mind that Magazine’.

We began with two special guests: Peter Kravitz and Glenda Norquay reflecting on the overlapping worlds of Edinburgh Review and Cencrastus in the 1980s.

Both talks were hugely useful in mapping out the various connections — social, practical, institutional — which defined the world of these magazines, and included some wonderful anecdotes and challenging questions.

An audio recording of these opening talks can be found below, or on Apple Podcasts.


We didn’t record the wide-ranging discussion that followed, but we’ve picked out a number of themes and highlights (based on the excellent notes of Alice Piotrowska). We’ll be pursuing several of these questions further as we move toward our next event, on possibilities for digitisation, and the edited book project.

Magazines as organisations that work together and form relationships. Talking about his experience in the early years of Radical Scotland, Graeme Purves mentioned the challenges of working as a small, idealistic and determined ‘editorial collective’: a model that is difficult to sustain in the long run. Glenda Norquay agreed, noting parallels with Cencrastus.

Why should this Edinburgh sandwich shop be a major fixture of literary tourism? Listen to the podcast to find out…

Distribution: Glenda Norquay mentioned her interest in the practicalities of magazine distribution. For instance, Edinburgh Review was operating within a fairly professional publishing set-up as part of Polygon/Edinburgh University Student Publications Board, but she also recalls people packing magazines (such as Cencrastus) into cars and driving them around Scotland themselves. Getting magazines into shops was a major challenge, and she is interested to know more about how other people did it.

SCAMP: Joy Hendry (Chapman) agreed that distribution was a major and perennial challenge, partly addressed through the formation of SCAMP (Scottish Association of Magazine Publishers) in 1973, at the urging of Trevor Royle and Walter Perrie. [Modestly funded by the Scottish Arts Council until 1976, SCAMP was a co-operative marketing/distribution scheme and selling agency intended to professionalise Scottish periodical publishing.] The situation did not really improve throughout the 1980s and 90s, and Joy would still be packing copies into her car and selling them directly in pubs, sometimes with the help of volunteers. (See also Joy’s blog on Chapman.)

From a December 1980 issue of ‘Student’ discussing developments at the Edinburgh University Student Publications Board (including the recent launch of Polygon). Full issue here.

Digitisation and research: Graeme Hawley (NLS) asked about the research questions people would like digitisation to open up for them. What is not currently possible, as a research question or method, that could be pursued through digitisation?  (Technology can do a lot of things, but it’s the research questions that will drive its use.) Scott Hames agreed this is an important discussion to begin, and that it is important to consider the new kinds of research/use digitisation would enable, rather than viewing it simply as a repository.

Glenda Norquay suggested that digitising magazines could help produce a ‘map’ of contributors who overlapped across different magazines – i.e. who was writing for which magazines? Graeme Purves mentioned that he is currently exploring related questions, and that there are a lot of names that crop up across magazines (such as Alastair McIntosh and Rob Gibson in Reforesting Scotland.) Once you start mapping those names, you pick up many connections.

Graeme Macdonald wrote in the chat that ‘digitisation would be great not only for research purposes but especially for research students geographically unable to immediately access Scottish university holdings (which by themselves are still pretty patchy), but also for use in general undergraduate teaching.’

Editorial freedom: Joy Hendry mentioned that being a ‘solo operator,’ while challenging on an administrative and financial level, meant that she could follow her own vision. She felt that she had a lot of editorial freedom to publish what she wanted, and it allowed her to do her ‘job’ as an editor – creating a ‘democratic’ outlet for varied voices but also realising her vision for the magazine, as she ‘knew where she was going’ and what she wanted to achieve. She cited Patricia Oxley of Acumen saying that editing a magazine is like ‘educating yourself in public.’

Allegiance to different magazines: Glenda Norquay said that she was particularly interested in people’s reading habits at the time – for example, did people read all magazines, or did they choose one or two outlets (e.g., would you be an ‘Edinburgh Review person’)? Murdo Macdonald remembers reading everything – although there was an element of competition, it was within ‘an overall sense of cooperation’ among magazine editors, with a lot of cross-interest. Similarly, Ray Burnett (Calgacus) said that he read ‘everything that he could get his hands on,’ including Chapman, Radical Scotland, and Akros.

Women in magazine publishing: Joy Hendry noted that Scottish literature was very much a male world in the 1970s and 80s, and that the inspiration driving Chapman would come from mostly male authors/connections. She mentioned trying to find a bridge between the ‘two worlds’ as a feminist editor working with male writers. (Jenny Turner’s blog is relevant here, and so too Glenda Norquay’s comments during this event – see recording above.)

‘Underlying social fabric’:
Rory Scothorne mentioned his interest in the social life/communities that gathered around the literary magazines – were there particular pubs, cafes, or bookshops that were important to the magazine scene? A few mentioned by the participants: Sandy Bell’s, Proctors and various Rose Street bars in Edinburgh, Star Club and the Scotia Bar in Glasgow, St Katherine’s Club in Aberdeen. Graeme Purves noted that the working world of Radical Scotland was very much centred around small pubs. Joy Hendry mentioned that she would distribute Chapman around pubs and universities in Scotland.

We hope to make an ‘audio scrapbook’ podcast from people’s memories of these magazines, so if you have a story or anecdote you’d be willing to share, please do get in touch on There will be a few other ‘Magazine Memory’ blogs appearing over the coming months.

Back Issues: Event 1 Digest

The launch issue of a magazine tends to flaunt its novelty, but the much-delayed  start to this project was focused more on backstory.

The network’s first meeting (24 February 2021) began with a short talk by Patrick Collier, developing the themes of his blog post ‘Six or Seven (or so) Ways to Read a Magazine’. This was a rich tour d’horizon of the magazine in theory, unpacking the multi-voicedness, seriality and objecthood that make these artefacts what they are. What sort of critical – or uncritical – gaze is appropriate to the magazine, Collier asked, linking several milestones in periodical studies to recent ‘method wars’ in literary studies. Exploring the value of close, distant and ‘just’ reading, alongside questions of genre and materiality, this was a highly stimulating introduction to the field.

One of its pioneers, Margaret Beetham, emphasised ‘how the formal qualities of the periodical are shaped by its particular relationship to time’.[1] And the cultural work that magazines do, Collier argued, is caught up with their iterative nature. In examining specific titles we should attend to their ‘open’ and ‘closed’ qualities from issue to issue (rather than tethering a single article firmly to its date of publication). A cultural review might respond to unfolding events from a variety of perspectives, inviting readers to participate (via letters pages) and to navigate the mixed-genre text in their own way (open), but it will also construct a consistent persona, publishing schedule and implied reader across time (closed).

Commercial magazines may have a mission statement of sorts, but we take it with a pinch of salt, knowing that advertising and circulation are the foremost considerations. Non-commercial magazines, Collier noted, are in some ways easier objects for cultural historians to handle: even if they include a wide range of material and voices, they are usually led by a small group committed to ‘making its meanings stick’ rather than generating profits.

For the Scottish magazines at the centre of our interest, their typical smallness (of circulation, of dramatis personae), uncommercial aims and strength of editorial mission (often activist or avant-garde) will often lean toward the ‘closed’ pole of Beetham’s helpful rubric. At the same time, the majority of these titles are passionately engaged in ‘opening the doors’ of cultural and political change in Scotland, focused on generating new ideas, publics and connections.

And here, perhaps, is a notable feature of periodicals linked (in varying degrees) to a wider nation-building project. For many of our target titles, the implied subject and audience is ‘Scotland’, so that journals and reviews focused on Scottish poetry, Scottish feminism or Scottish constitutional change have a stable structuring interest and ‘field’ (closed) which they are actively shaping, expanding and contesting (open); all in ways that tend to naturalise the national frame they treat both as a cultural given and a prompt to action and critique.

We might say that periodicals such as Question Magazineprofiled here by Ben Jackson – ‘cover’ a domain of Scottish cultural and political life they also help to ‘constitute’ and solidify, its fortnightly reports helping to make this world both discursively and materially real, available to purchase in newsagents and bookshops. One of the interesting features of these magazines is how their formally ‘closed’ features – including the notable absence of women contributors – sit alongside their more ideologically ‘open’ aims and qualities, generating fresh national possibility, community and identity.

Questions of audience are of special interest for periodicals directly engaged in politics, alliance-making and mobilisation. Rory Scothorne noted the history of revolutionary newspapers as surrogate political organisations, an often ‘closed’ and hierarchical locus of debate sharing features with the vanguardist party (and often providing a source of income for party activity). The recent work of Lucy Delap (on the print-culture of British feminism) was noted for its relevance in studying magazines as modern political and rhetorical forms, and Patrick Collier noted the broader importance of periodicals in constructing ‘counter-public spheres’.

In these ‘parallel discursive arenas’, Nancy Fraser argued, ‘members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counterdiscourses, which in turn permit them to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests, and needs’.[2] We can readily see how this description fits many of our Scottish titles, but might also observe the paradox of conceiving the national public (real or potential) as a subaltern counter-public – a paradox much easier to glimpse after two decades of devolution and the rapid consolidation of a Scottish democratic system.

Speaking from the archivist’s point of view, Graeme Hawley highlighted the practical and classificatory challenges that accompany the definitional conundrums outlined in Collier’s introduction: what exactly is a magazine, viewed in terms of its physical dimensions, publishing schedule, balance of visual and textual material, and so on? How can the dizzying variety of their content, and the embedded knowledge they ‘accidentally’ capture (e.g. the way a demolished building looked in a photograph from 1960), be tagged or catalogued for disaggregation and research, using digital finding aids? These reflections recall Beetham’s point (cited by Collier) that the magazine is ‘not so much a form in its own right as an enabling space for readers traversing the items they encounter’. How can this ‘enabling space’ be mapped for others, and made accessible to readers physically remote from archival collections? At the encouragement of the group, Hawley agreed to write a separate SMN blog developing these thoughts. The network will return to the question of digitisation later in the year.

This was a rich and dynamic conversation I can’t fully summarise, but here are a few points and observations that lodged in my memory:

        • Ben Jackson was the first of several (including the author of this blogpost) to confess having used magazine articles as ‘disaggregated’ historical fodder, rather than (as Collier suggested) ‘reading magazines closely as magazines’. Collier noted the inevitability of selectivity in using magazines for teaching or research, and offered generous absolution.


        • Reflecting on her own time with the Cencrastus editorial collective, Glenda Norquay complicated the image of politically driven magazines as ‘closed’ organisations. Although there may be an agreed editorial agenda, the nature of such magazines demands unpaid work at different levels and also a turnover of editorial staff, which can produce a degree of instability. An unchanging masthead can also conceal multiple perspective and evolving internal views.


        • Charlotte Lauder pointed out that mass-circulation commercial magazines can also have strong viewpoints, and directed our attention to publishers and proprietors (not only editors and contributors) in studying these agendas. Charlotte’s own work on The People’s Friend, owned and published by the Liberal MP for Dundee John Leng prior to its sale to DC Thomson, is a fascinating example.


        • Alex Thomson noted the importance of state patronage and public subsidy, especially via the Scottish Arts Council. In addition to their own strong agendas, most of our Scottish magazines would also face the imperative of satisfying the funding body (within a distinctive ‘double arm’s length’ regime prior to devolution, enjoying greater autonomy from government). This support was often premised on the publication of original literary content (poetry and short stories), effectively cross-subsidising these magazines’ more contentious offerings (for which the SAC was not paying and was not strictly answerable).


        • Malcolm Petrie noted the ‘interlinked’ nature of these Scottish magazines, and the many lines of affiliation (and occasional discord) by which they were knitted together. How might we approach them as a collection of titles, instead of separate entities? Patrick Collier observed that magazines always exist in dialogue with each other, and suggested framing our research agenda in a way that spotlights the threads of debate between magazines, thus foregrounding the broader ‘ecology’ in which they interact.


        • Nikki Simpson noted some of the practical challenges and potential of archiving magazines, and outlined her own plans to establish an International Magazines Centre in Edinburgh. The special challenges of copyright for digitisation will be a key focus of the network in later events.


      We rounded off the meeting with some planning discussion relating to upcoming activity (events, podcasts, interviews), and further details of the edited book project in development. The editors will be commissioning chapters later this year, with a preference for cross-disciplinary perspectives and co-authorship of chapters. Further details and a call for papers will follow soon.

      This much-delayed start to the network’s activity was truly heartening, and we look forward to our next meeting.  Prompted by Patrick Collier’s short bibliographic tour of periodical studies, we thought it might be helpful to compile a mini-bibliography on the Scottish contexts of our target magazines.

    • [1] Margaret Beetham, ‘Open and Closed: The Periodical as a Publishing Genre’, Victorian Periodicals Review 22.3 (Fall, 1989): 96-100 (p. 97).

      [2] Nancy Fraser, ‘Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy’, Social Text 25/26 (1990): 56-80 (p. 67).