Planning to Print

Lab 5: Planning to Print

Through discussions, readings, and hands-on experience, I have gained a small glimpse of what it was like to be a compositor in print shop this week. It is a rather tedious and heavy process to print a page, let alone an entire book and it’s hard to relate to this method of printing. In today’s age, printing means sending a word document to a machine that spits out numerous pages a minute. The process has changed immensely and most of the population no longer view printing as an “art” or a “craft.” Seen with many technological advances, we’ve simply lost touch with the process of printing as it once was. Being able to take a moment and participate in this lab has helped me regain some understanding of the importance of the printing press and how it opened up a new spread of information.

During our printing unit, a common theme has been that compositors were responsible for the copyright of written works. At first, being used to artists/authors/songwriters owning their copyright to creative works, I thought that idea was ridiculous; the author didn’t receive royalties?! I now feel a bit more sympathy for the compositor. Printing text by hand was a skill learned over time and is not the mass production done by machinery today. The fact that printers had more ownership in the work doesn’t surprise me anymore, considering it was such a crucial part of publishing a book. I see the text as more authentic in a way, “handmade.” I appreciate the creation more than do if I was looking at a book released recently.

To think about the print shop and the skills, tasks, and processes needed to develop a successful company exposes an immense history of the text. The discussions we had ranged from women’s rights, information overload, the physical process, language, etc. We can really push our understanding of general history by looking at the environment text was created in. The major ideas I took away from this lab was that humans have felt the same emotions and gone through similar issues for hundreds of years. The anxiety of information overload was felt when manuscripts were created by hand, and it’s felt today as we are constantly stimulated by our computers and phones. Women are still fighting for wage equality and equal opportunity/treatment in the workplace. Learning about old printing methods and the history of the people involved shows that we have come far in many ways, yet certain elements of life remain constant.

Although the importance of printing is widely understood, I do think it can sometimes be a bit romanticized when talked about in historical context. I remember we mentioned that in class during our discussion about Herman Melville’s “The Tartarus of Maids.” Melville’s descriptions of the conditions in the paper factory show an environment neglected and abused by the individuals in power. It’s a scene we still witness today where values lie in the finished product rather than the process and treatment of employees. Going through the motions of the lab, I found it relaxing and I enjoyed learning something new (and old), but I’m not sure if the girls in the factory would describe it similarly. This is the first lab where I felt the readings didn’t just compliment the physical tasks but also increased my self-awareness. I don’t just think of the hand press as a revolutionizing invention that did nothing but good. I also view it as the start of an industry with its own issues and injustices.