Lab 5

An analysis of the print shop, its physicality and how that relates to the process and history of the print shop overall can offer a microcosm of the world of printing at large and how the different roles involved–papermakers, compositors, printers’ devils, press operators–all interacted and developed throughout the history of the development of print. Historically, each role took on a different societal role, all of which developed and changed in relation to the world around it. Additionally, the roles taken on by all of those involved in a printing shop influenced actions in the world outside of the printing shop and the world of print. Printing in the printing shop requires a precise technique and skill set, the physical actions of which helped influence the role, both inside the print shop and the societal connotations ay large, played by the papermakers, compositeurs, printers’ devils and press operators. Today, with the invention of technology and a shift to digital print, accessing print, letters and pages of text requires a less specific skill set. Perhaps the accessibility of the written is why today the role of the writer and the artist, and their ability to produce the printed word, has became far more fluid. Further, today “writing” is simply writing, whether printed or on a computer–the medium does not fully define the act, as it were. Compare that to, for example, Franklin’s definition of writing, which he considered to be a very different act that printing itself. Franklin had a relatively modern view of this, for his time, and yet his definition of these medias differs from what ours might be. As a both a compositor and a printer, the physical act of both of these informed how Franklin, and others of his time, saw the act of print. Further, this informs the clear distinction made by many of the time between “printing” and “writing”.

Franklin, as a white man of an upper socioeconomic class was a notable figure of both printing and compositing. Melville’s “Tartarus” examines the invisible labor done by women of a lower socioeconomic class at a paper mill. Werner as well focused on invisible labor done by women in the print shop; in particular, Werner focuses on the role undertaken by women while printing under a man’s name, generally their husband’s or late husband’s, literally relegating themselves–by necessity more so than desire–to a role that is often undetected in the history books. Werner discusses transferring of rights through printing and the agency women were able to establish through doing so (for example, by profiting financially) while still remaining often largely invisible. Werner writes:

In the course of this single book printing history, we’ve seen women in nearly all the roles associated with making books: a woman wrote it, a woman published it, a woman speculated with it, and a woman printed it. If we’d just been looking at the title pages of the book, we would have only seen two of those women, Jocelin and Barret.

The women in “Tartarus”, in the role of the papermaker, produced and played a vital function in the overall process of print yet their backbreaking labor went largely unnoticed, as they stayed unnamed. The women involved with print described by Warner, such as Jocelin and Barret, can be found named with a little more detective work, but in both instances their productivity and prominence was not brought to the forefront. The erasure of women in the prominence of print could be due to socioeconomic status, as it was for the women described in Melville’s “Tartarus”, or as it was for women such as those working in industrial mills such as those found in Lowell, Massachusetts. This erasure of women could also be found amongst women of a higher socioeconomic class who simply worked under their husband’s name, more so due to who was considered to have the “ability” to successfully run a print shop. These attitudes shift, as we see evidenced by attitudes around the time of the Victoria Press, but even, for example, in defense of women compositers, men who wrote conceding that women have the ability to work in the print shop is sure to note “either the female mind is mechanical” or, tellingly, “that printing does not require a mechanical mind.” The more women and those of a lower socioeconomic status entered the print shop, the more the labor was considered unskilled. Women such as the fictional Ms. Grundy sought out young women to become experts, rather than wanting to rely on women who needed the work after having done something else–yet this implies a certain level of implicit ableism as well as a degree of exploitation due to her specifically seeking out younger women for this role. With regards to the Victoria Press, there is also mention a women entering the workforce hurting the wages of men–this devalues women’s’ labor, as it relates to the print shop, though it is also reflective of attitudes around women in the workforce in general (and uses comparable rhetoric to modern-day arguments against immigrants in the American workforce, for example) by framing it as a detriment to the labor of men. Though the author does not fully concede with this argument, it demonstrates the way that men historically dominated roles in the print shop, as well the opposition that was met in allowing women any role in the print shop, but particularly roles where they were put in charge or credited solely. Even the roles of printers’ devils were traditionally filled by young boys, not girls, though girls did begin to fill that role with increasing levels of frequency. Apprenticeship and wages affected the prominence of women in print as well by indicating the level of skill that could be garnered, thus making the skill set more accessible to a wider subset of people. However, despite this, eventually things swung the other way, as women were eventually pushed out of print shops. However, the accessibility of a role in the print shop for women, as well as the prominence of women in the print shop, steadily increased, due to socioeconomic and societal factors amongst others.

Women in print was a constantly changing and shifting societal idea. The technical (or “mechanical”) elements of the process of print, as well as the more physically draining or arduous elements involved from papermaking, compositing, printing and printers’ devil, made the change and shift in who was involved with printing drag on, as long-standing ideas rooted in misogyny (or pseudoscience) presented a defensive argument for those opposed to a growing subset of people beyond highly trained, white, upper socioeconomic status men dominating the field of print. Today, the technology innovator or creator and their final product is highlighted and considered more important than the chains of production. However, historically, in the print shop, the chain of production was long, arduous, with many components with different degrees of physicality, lending credibility and importance to each role. A print shop cannot function without each role, all being just as important as the other, yet the concept and societal perception of each of these roles changed due to the type of person that generally happened to be filling it.