Cataloging work has begun on Harvard College Library’s recently acquired 20,000-strong zines collection. Zines are non-commercial, non-professional and small-circulation publications that their creators produce, publish and either trade or sell themselves.
The 600 or so zine titles listed thus far are best described as an eclectic collection of material whose subject matter ranges from personal diaries on the day-to-day life of their authors (known as ‘perzines’) to politics (Anarchist, Socialist, Feminist etc.), religion, work, sex, travel, cooking, art, literature and fan commentary on sports, television and film, music, and science fiction. Although their format varies greatly, most are printed or photocopied and stapled or fastened together, and the material is either the author’s own, or copied and pasted from another, usually unreferenced, source. Material is arranged on the page in any direction, color, shape and size the author sees fit.
In his book Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture (1997), Stephen Duncombe traces the history of zines as a distinct medium in the United States from the 1930s when science fiction fans began producing ‘fanzines’ to share science fiction stories and reviews. Forty years later, in the mid-1970s, fans of punk rock music, which was ignored at the time by the mainstream music press, started printing fanzines about their music and cultural scene.
According to Duncombe, it was in the early 1980s that these two currents joined fans of other cultural genres, self-publishers and the remnants of printed political dissent from the sixties and seventies, and cross-fertilized through listing and reviews in network zines like Factsheet Five. By the early 1990s, the emphasis on ‘fan’ zines faded as the culture of zines plain and simple developed and flourished.
During my first two weeks of listing zines, I was interested in getting a sense of why someone would devote time, and often money, to producing, circulating and reading zines. As most zine authors reflect on the zine medium itself, and what participating in zine culture means for them, material was not in short supply. The excerpts below are just three examples from dozens of others on why authors, and in this case, young authors, write zines.
Excerpt 1: ‘All hail me’ by Megan, summer ’96, #8
Excerpt 2: ‘Banana Revolution, Sucka’, issue #4
Excerpt 3: ‘Absolute beginners’
Thanks to Alina Lazar for contributing this post. Alina is a second-year PhD candidate in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard. She is one of the initial cohort of Harvard Library Pforzheimer Fellows, working with curator Leslie Morris at Houghton Library to compile a title listing of Harvard College Library’s Printernet Collection of approximately 20,000 zines. The Printernet Collection was assembled by an anonymous collector, and was purchased by Widener Library in 2012. The current project to create a title list is the first step in the process to decide where the collection, or portions of it, might best be housed at Harvard, and how it will be made available for research.