In our digital age, it is sometimes easy to forget about the importance of printing in human history, particularly as many people now almost never hold a physical newspaper or book in their hands. However, the last information revolution was brought about by developments in printing, and their effects are still with us. Printing had been practiced in Asia for many centuries before its introduction into Europe in the middle of the fifteenth century. Printing with moveable type meant many more books could be produced with the new machines than could ever be made by scribes, which led to an explosion of the written word, which would now become truly important as a source of information in the world.
Amongst other things, Swem Library’s Special Collections is home to rare books, many of which were printed using hand-set type and on presses operated by hand.
Over time, printing became even more mechanized, and now much of it is done with ink-jet printers which bear almost no relation to the old ways of printing. However, printing with letterpresses is not dead, and Swem Library also possesses some wonderful examples of modern printing. In the digital age there are still people printing using movable type on machines operated by human power, often in small runs for artistic purposes. The Christian Vinyard collection for example contains many beautiful private press books, which are an excellent demonstration that after more than five hundred and fifty years the printing press is still with us.
Curator: Phillip Emanuel, Special Collections Graduate Assistant and PhD Candidate in History.
Exhibit Design: Jessica Molz and Abram Clear, SCRC Graphics Student Assistants.
Fabrication and Installation: Jennie Davy, Exhibits Manager, and Phillip Emanuel, with assistance from Dana Florczak, Undergraduate Student Assistant.
Photos of this exhibit are available at W&M Libraries on Flickr.