Lab 5

Planning to Print

When thinking about the stages of textual production, it initially seems like there really are no steps besides step 1: lay the type and step 2: print. It might seem that simple to the outsider looking in, but it is not that simple at all. Going all the way back to the beginning of the production of a piece, the first step really is producing the font needed to print a text. Then from there a printer would need to procure leading and spacers, and then they would need some place to store all their materials, so they would need a type case. Printers would also need a composing stick and a galley and forms, not to mention an actual printing press, and the list goes on of materials a printer would need to have before they could even begin printing a word. So the first consideration that comes to my mind when thinking about hand press printing is just how expensive it was. It seems then like printing would be a job only the extremely wealthy were able to partake in, but to my knowledge that is not the case. As the Werner reading mentions, many printers had to take out loans, which makes printing, even though laborious, feel much more like a labor of love than a job to make an enormous profit.

After a printer had all the necessary materials for the actual process of printing, they would have to find a text to print and then lay every single letter and space and punctuation mark in that text one at a time, making sure the spacing was appropriate and the lines had no gaps. After having laid type myself, I understand how a compositor could get to be quite quick at it, but that does not change the fact that it is an incredibly laborious job. It is certainly much less work than working in the scriptorium was, but that does not mean that it is fast and easy by modern standards. Yet this care and precision necessary for printing further enhances my view of printers as people who cared deeply for their work because no one would subject themself to sitting hunched over for hours at a time if some part of them did not love the work they were doing.

When reflecting on the work of the printers, it can be valuable to compare them to the writers whose work they were bringing into being. Even though they may not have been considered artists like authors almost unarguably are, printers were in some ways artists in their own right. Every single page in every single book a printer printed was meticulously crafted so that it could best convey its meaning, which is really not so different from how a painter may add a single brush stroke to a painting to precisely convey the story or emotion they want to convey.

Thinking beyond just the print shop to the paper mills and the foundries, creating one book was a lot of work, but it also had the possibility to employ so many people. In the manuscript era, there were only some monks sitting in a room with scripture being read at them who could write. With the arrival of movable type and the printing press came numerous jobs for people, and even though jobs like working at the paper mill were miserable jobs, they were still work, which was important at a time where there was always the threat of owing money and being thrown into debtors’ prison.

This rich background that every book during the hand press period had is incredibly important because in English classes we tend to think about the text with regards to the content, but we never really think about the text as an object. We never think about who created the book and all the work that went into it, and even though this class is called “Technologies of Text,” in a way it makes a text more human than ever. Thinking about all the parts that come together to make one book forces the reader to connect with the human element of the book and ground themself in this world, rather than postulating about what the text could mean in some abstract world. In a time where we as a people seem to be losing sight of humanity in favor of arguing about the truth of mainstream media, this type of grounding in the reality of this world is more important than ever. This is not to say that as a society we need to revert back to using the hand press in order to solve all our problems, but rather thinking about other aspects of the book can be a great reminder of the importance of looking at things from a different point of view and trying to think beyond the opinions that we have already internalized.