Founded by an American health and fitness reformer in New York and London in 1899, Macfadden Publications was best known for its magazines Physical Culture, True Story, True Romances, True Detective, and Photoplay. While a few historians have examined Macfadden Publications in a domestic context, no one has traced the growth of Macfadden Publications world-wide. That the company left behind no archival material and most of its magazines were allowed to literally disintegrate has added to the invisibility of its transnational impact. My research on Macfadden Publications uses connective comparison,” various digital sources, biographies, and correspondence from readers in order to present a more incisive picture of the flow of mass-market media. It also provides insight into the roles played by non-state actors and cultural brokers in shaping America’s role in the world in the decades leading up to Henry Luce’s 1941 declaration of an “American Century.”
Perhaps most excitingly for the AHA conference, when presented in an interactive poster session format, my project provides a useful context for discussing numerous theoretical and methodological questions: What important ideas, actors, processes, and products, whose histories have not been preserved in traditional archives, merit closer scrutiny from American historians? What kinds of sources (including digital resources) might better illuminate non-elite networks of cultural exchange? What can historians do to capture and convey the complexity and multi-directionality of transnational cultural flows? In addition to presenting material of interest to historians of American culture, U.S. foreign relations, and world history, “Picturing a Transnational Pulp Archive” is designed to inspire debate about issues that remain at the heart of the growing field of transnational history.