1.) Papermaking: The creation of handmade paper was something I knew absolutely nothing about before entering the class. I have always just kind of taken paper for granted as it has always been available to me, but now that I know how much effort and skill goes into handmade paper, I most definitely see it in a whole new light. The amount of labor that went into making paper before the advent of modern technology is incredible. From cutting up piles upon piles of soiled rags to getting everyone at the paper mill to come help press the water out of the pile, it is amazing paper was even made in the first place! A huge amount of labor was needed to produce a simple sheet of paper. Now that I am aware of all the hard work that went into crafting paper and the differences between a quality sheet and one that was cheaply made, I can appreciate the importance of a handmade page in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, for instance. I find myself looking for chain lines and water marks whenever I pick up an old book… But hey, I’m not complaining.
2.) Marbling: Although we didn’t spend much time on marbling paper it was still pretty awesome to have the opportunity to try our hand at the process. Like paper making, marbling is truly an art that takes practice and patience. Our paper turned out pretty righteous (the slang meaning of the term) in my opinion, even though most likely we would have been kicked out of apprentice school on the first day. Also, meeting Dr. McClintock for the first time was a great experience. The work he has done with marbling, box-making (the Valentine’s day gifts), typeface (he has a typeface modeled after his own handwriting), and publication in general is simply amazing. Dr. McClintock is the man.
3.) Typography: This was the area of the class that really peaked my interest. We didn’t spend a huge amount of time on the topic but we did touch on some very interesting points. Typography has always been a fascinating subject for me. Having the opportunity to set type by hand and print a page on a Vandercook proofing press was like a dream come true. I could have spent days in the basement of Alderman Library setting whole pages of text. The digital resources on typography like the Typography Insight app, “What Type Are You?” online quiz, and even the Arial vs. Helvetica game on the iPad were all very helpful. It was fun to look at the different Kafka title pages and make a decision if the typeface fit the text at all. I didn’t think any of them did but that’s just my opinion… Although we didn’t spend much time on typography, the class helped better open my eyes to the field and solidified my interest in type. I took my interest in type even farther outside of the classroom in my spare time watching documentaries on type (I highly recommend the film Helvetica), researching and reading on the histories of particular typefaces (some type creators are VERY VERY odd), and maybe even pursuing a job in the field of printing or typography. I am in no way trying to sound like an overachiever, I just wanted to tell you all how the class helped establish my interest in typography. Loving type is not all fun and games as I have found out. When I am out and about in town or driving, I find myself constantly looking at signs and text trying to determine if I recognize what particular type is being used. Just last weekend when I was in Richmond with my lady friend, I made sure that she was aware of six different stores that used Helvetica in their logo… Though there are many more than six! Finally she just told me to stop and now I just keep my typographic observances to myself. It is really amazing how much text and type is around us at every moment of everyday that we just overlook. Millions of dollars can be spent designing or choosing one typeface for one particular use and most of the time the public is blissfully unaware of this. A typeface that is perfectly suited to a certain text has the uncanny ability to almost subliminally transmit a chosen message to a reader, without the reader having to digest the words. The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” rings true for typeface as well. Each printed letter is a tiny work of art, pushing the meaning of the text even further. Harmony in literature exists only when text and type fit seamlessly together on the page. Ok, now I realize i’ve gotten into some strange form of “typographic philosophy” so i’ll just go ahead and stop. But heres a link to a rad book about the philosophy of typography priced at a cool $18.21! Order yours today! You can see why my girlfriend and/or anyone I talk to about type just wants me to shut up… Whatever, I do just fine talking to myself. I’ll just end this section with a small (or maybe not so small?) thought: typography is one of the unsung heroes that keeps this world turning.
4.) Books in general: We have learned so much about the book this semester that it is hard to review everything in one blogpost, I don’t have the time for that right now. As Howard from The Legend of Old Gregg would say: “I’m a man about town!” Anyway, the small random facts that I have carried away from the class are quite possibly my favorite souvenirs. It is crazy to think that medieval bookmakers would reuse manuscripts and glaze them into cover boards for other books. Think about all the calligraphy, text, and quality handmade paper that is sitting, hidden behind vellum in museums all over the world. In fact, I found an example of this technique in Hampden-Sydney’s own Bortz Library. As I was typing this post, I glanced over to one of the stacks to my right and noticed a book with a nice embossed spine and cover. What really caught my eye was the portion of spine that was missing it’s outer layer. On the spine, under the cover material, is a strip of printed paper glued to the cloth that holds the gathering together. The paper appears to be a fragment of what was once a list of books available at Henry Bohn’s Classical Library. It seems the practice of reusing printed paper in other areas of bookmaking did not die out in medieval times. Imagine if the slip of paper beneath the cover was autographed by Dickens or Wilde and accidentally got tossed into a scrap pile. The binder may have overlooked the signature and glued it into the book without scrutiny. The signature might have lay hidden for 160 years until a curious english major noticed some faded handwriting behind the torn spine covering. If that was the case I most certainly would have pulled an Indiana Jones/Lewis Bell move and pocketed that baby in the blink-of-an-eye! Another very interesting thing I noticed about this particular book is that it appears to have NEVER been fully read cover to cover. Almost every page in the book, after page 89, is still uncut from when it was folded and bound; it also has never been checked out by anyone at H-SC as the library “date due” card is blank. The book was printed by Cox (Brothers) and Wyman and published by Henry G. Bohn of York Street, London in 1852 and since then, not one soul cared to read The Odes of Pindar, Literally Translated into English Prose past page 89… With the knowledge I have gained in the authorship class, I can look at any old book and begin to uncover the history behind its physical existence. This may be boring and unimportant to some people but I think it’s pretty badass.
The main purpose of this blogpost was not to simply explain everything I have taken away from the authorship class. Rather, I wanted to briefly tell you all how the class has influenced the way I interpret literature, not just on a textual level but on physical and historical levels as well. I am able to apply my knowledge not just to a final paper or project, but to things outside the classroom. Applicable knowledge is the most invaluable kind and that is precisely what we have gained from what I like to call the “experience” of English 360: Gutenburg to Google. We students are in no way experts on any of the topics we covered this semester but I believe the class has given us a leg-up against english majors and scholars that may have never focused on the question of authorship or the physical aspects of the book. Too many people regard the subjects of english and literature as simply an attempt to draw meaning from words on a page. The truth of the matter is that authorship, books, and the written word (i’m grouping very broadly here) goes far beyond merely uncovering textual meaning. Literature encompasses every facet of life and without the book, the human race might have never made it this far.
Post Script: Thank you to everyone in the Authorship class for a great experience this semester and to Dr. Davis who brought English 360: Gutenburg to Google into existence. Fin, for now…