On May 25, 1977, in a galaxy (not so) far away, the first Star Wars film captivated audiences worldwide and became a cultural phenomenon that has shaped the genre of science-fiction films as we know it today. That same year, another sector of popular culture was revolutionized with the release of the Atari video game system. A decade later in the 1980s, new wave music was blaring through thousands of radio stations and portable Walkman audio players.

Though these are just a few of the significant trends and events that made up 20th century pop culture, this slice of history is widely covered in the media and other sources on the internet today. The difficult question for researchers is how to find reliable resources to turn to when searching for first-hand accounts and information.

Magazine archives offer researchers a broad perspective on 20th century life and events, including pop culture. Popular magazines from the time such as Life, TIME, People and Vanity Fair provide cover to cover issues dating all the way back to the beginning of the century up through the 2000s. This means that researchers also have the ability to track pop culture trends over time and study the evolution of film and television, music, art, fashion, video games and more.

Below are some examples of the coverage available in EBSCO’s magazine archives that researchers can use for further exploration of pop culture topics.

1. Andy Warhol and the Pop Art Movement

Even if you’re not an art enthusiast, the name Andy Warhol rings familiar. One of the most prominently recognized artists in the 20th century, Warhol was known for revolutionizing a form of painting called pop art, which reflected popular trends of the time and depicted them in symbolism and bright color. Some of his most famous pieces included silkscreen paintings of a Campbell’s soup can and an image of Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe, known as the Marilyn Diptych. From the 1960s on, Warhol’s work and the pop art movement gained traction in popular magazines:

  • ARTNews interviewed Warhol and other artists on the pop art movement in 1974, with other artists featured, including George Segal and Roy Lichtenstein.
  • Forbes published an extensively detailed collection of Warhol’s art in 1988.
  • TIME highlighted Warhol’s life and art in 1998, over a decade after his passing in 1987, proving that his legacy and work still resonated in pop culture.

2. The Social, Political and Cultural Impact of Star Wars

Just five days after it was released, TIME called Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope the year’s best movie. Eight more films were added to the franchise over the following four decades, cementing Star Wars as a piece of American culture that remained consistently relevant. Its characters became icons Yoda graced the cover of a 1980 issue of People and Darth Vader appeared on the cover of TIME the same yearand its themes were connected to commentary on business and politics.  Some examples of the broad coverage of Star Wars include:

  • In a 1978 issue Ebony discussed the impact of Star Wars on the increase of popularity in science fiction toys.
  • Fortune included commentary on how George Lucas promoted the advancement of technology through the films in a 1985 issue.
  • In 2005 The Nation published an article comparing the themes in Revenge of the Sith to the state of American politics and the Bush administration.

3. Atari and Early Game Systems

Gaming has become a popular pastime for many people around the world, making it a recognizable component of our culture. Today many game consoles and video games are available, but it all began with the creation of the first home video game console Atari. Nintendo followed soon after by releasing their own console released in 1983, marking the beginning of the brand we know today. Coverage of the evolution of the video game industry and its impact on pop culture is provided through the following magazine archives:

  • Bloomberg Businessweek highlighted the large and sudden growth of the video game industry in 1982, when its value jumped to $2 billion dollars. They also covered the shift from traditional plug-in consoles to handheld consoles in a 1989 issue.
  • In a 1990 issue Forbes published an article detailing the growth and popularity of companies such as Nintendo and Sega and encouraged readers not to miss out on the new gaming trends.
  • A 1999 issue of TIME discusses the growing concerns about the relationship between video games and children, and how this relationship impacts society.

These are just a few examples of the multitude of pop culture topics with deep histories to explore within magazine archives.  There are many more subjects to explore, more perspectives to be gained, and more history to be unearthed from these unique resources.

Ready to dive deeper into pop culture topics?

Magazine archives cover a broad range of 20th century events and trends