histories of books and book arts
I don't typically write about myself (unless it involves dogs), and I don't typically write about anything current (unless it involves dogs.) But, since I'm doing something pretty cool this summer, I thought I'd shake things up and share what I've been up to. For four weeks, I am a summer fellow with the National Endowment for the Humanities' (NEH) Summer Institute, "The Book: Material Histories and Digital Futures." The mission statement for the Institute reads:
The Institute will consider the history of the book from material and embodied perspectives, studying how new and old forms of book technology and circulation impact the creation of and access to humanities scholarship and knowledge.
For our mornings, we discuss assigned readings and sometimes these sessions are lead by visiting faculty. In the afternoon, we participate in hands-on bookmaking projects. I have a tiny bit of printmaking experience, though I can safely say that none of that has helped me so far. I am true beginner. A research question I have had on my mind for sometime is how can we braid together the materials of book history, print culture, archival studies with the materials of ecocriticism (or, as Jane Bennett describes in lovely terms in Vibrant Matter: "vibrant matter and lively things ...edibles, commodities, storms, metals")? And thinking, feeling, and working with this question-- and these forms of materiality-- has informed my approach to bookmaking.
Book One: Coptic Binding
Victorian artist-publisher and critic William Morris famously declared that "You can't have art without resistance in the materials." William Morris must have been thinking about sewn book bindings when he wrote this. Coptic sewing is an early practice of book binding in which signatures (a section of folded sheets) are attached to one another through with chain stitch linkings across the spine. With this project, I have learned that I am no seamstress. And in terms of materials exhibiting their own agency or resistance, let's just say I felt like a little bit like Mickey Mouse when the brooms take over in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" My needle, thread, and book had minds of their own, and I definitely sewed my scissors into the binding at one point.
Book Two: Casebound Book
For our second book project, we made casebound books (the typical hardcovers that you're used to) with a sewn binding. Luckily, this sewing project went more smoothly. For this book, we could choose our cover paper, our end paper, our spine paper, and head and tail bands.
Thinking about how to connect book and environmental materialities, I went with a leaf covering and green cloth for the spine. And I'm pleased to say I only had one major glue mishap, cleverly hidden on the corner of the back cover.
Book Three: Perfect Bound Book
For the next book, we moved from sewing to industrial gluing with a perfect binding. We created covers in InDesign and go to use some heavy machinery (with supervision) to bind our books. Filled with blank paper, these books would serve well as journals, which informed my title choice "Imagined Worlds" (note the subtle change in text color for the "ag"-- my initials.) For my image, I chose an illustration done by late-nineteenth-century artist-scientist Ernst Haeckel whose Kunstlerformen de Natur (Art Forms in Nature) revolutionized the way that we visualized science and the natural world. To emphasize the horizontal linearity of the book, I picked his iconic image of the giant squid, which wraps around the book cover. (I also chose the squid in honor of #cephalopodweek, which was June 17th-June23rd.)
Book(s) Four: Chapbooks & Zines
One of our major conversation threads in the Institute is on ephemera & books, or types of material documentations not necessarily meant to be kept. We made sweet little pamphlet stitched chapbooks and folded zines that we got to trade with one another and store in little paper boxes. In honor of my niece who loves the Magic Eight Ball, my zine looked to old 8 to answer the question: "Is This a Book" (answer: "Signs Point to Yes")
Book Four: Collaborative Paper Making
Another discussion touchstone for #MaterialDigitalBook has been collaborative or affiliative processes of bookmaking, as we think about both the inclusive and exclusionary nature of books, texts, labor, and reading. To activate this collective creative practice of bookmaking, we spent one afternoon making paper. We began by drawing images, words, etc. on scraps of colored paper, which we then cut up and left to soak in a tub of water. This paper was then moved to the blender to, well, blend it into a very pleasing green pulp. From there we used a wooden rack to hand-make sheets of paper. Inspired by one of my very talented co-scholars, I added purple flowers to the dipping process to materialize a piece of paper with multiple stages of plant life in it.
Book Six: Broadsides
Carrying on our investigations of book ephemera, today (Wednesday, June 27th) we made broadsides, which are historical equivalents of posters (generally.) The genre, purpose, audiences, and making of broadsides vary, but one uniform characteristic is that we can think of them as a text printed on one side of a piece of paper. For this project, I chose to replicate a Victorian printing practice of nature printing, which simply involves inking up plant specimens and pressing them to paper. This process is near and dear to me, as I work (and am currently working) closely with a scientific artist from the mid-nineteenth-century, Cecilia Glaisher, who produced a beautiful album of nature printed leaves. During our lunch break, I scoured our Salt Lake City Community College Campus (the site of the institute) for leaves (not without stabbing myself on some that were surprisingly sharp.) Bordering my broadside is a series of quotations from Donna Haraway's Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, a text that asks us to reconfiguration our relations to the earth and all of its inhabitants. Moving beyond distinctions between past and present, life and death, Haraway asks us to remain in a "thick present" with all surrounding us. Playing off her discussion of thickness, I overlaid my nature-printed leaves to develop varied layers of ink that map out a topography of plant-text-ink-human relations. (I'm very fond of this print)
check back for more books in a couple weeks!
c19 scholar interested in all things freakish