The many material experiences of printing put a completely new light on printed material and texts from the hand press period. Learning how to compose and set rows of type led me to realize how typesetting as a form of interaction with writing is very different from typing on a computer. In typesetting, the work can be mindless-all you have to do is find the right letters, put them in the right orders, and space them such that each page of type is uniform and can be put into a press. It is actually much more similar to design than any form of thoughtful writing. We only printed seven lines of code, but it was significantly more difficult than I expected the work to be. I’d never really considered spacing as important before I needed to set indents and margins in a piece. Text processing software has made our lives simultaneously easier and more mindless, and working with typesetting was a great insight into how much goes into the artistic presentation of text that impacts how readers would recieve it. It would be easy to place text on a galley with uneven sides on each line, but it wouldn’t look as attractive to the reader.
The work of printers strongly involved the idea of choice in every action made and letter placed. The managers of printing presses would have to choose what texts to invest in, while compositors made constant choice about how to space out words on a page to achieve a uniform look across pages and pages of text. Even the artistic efforts–in the form of carved illustration blocks and stamps–had to be of the most important images. Otherwise, the creation and printing of those images would have been a less effective use of time than they could have been. Even the idea of an effective workflow is different from what we do today in business, as evidenced by this quote from Lindsay Lynch about her experiences in printing:
When no one is running the press, everything can be cleaned up and reconfigured. The spaces aren’t just in the composition, but in the workplace as well.
Thinking of the print shop as a part of textual history adds a “filter” of the text being analyzed as popular in some form, or believed to be impactful. Otherwise, printers would not have made the effort to create the text. Philosophical and political texts printed would have been, if not what the printer believed and wanted to support, at least strongly demanded by public consumers.