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Lindsay Schmittle (left) prepares the hand-cranked press to print
the sample that Amos Kennedy Jr. created as a demonstration for the
workshop. Schmittle, who graduated from UD in 2013 with a fine arts
degree, worked in the Department of Art and Design's Raven Press studio
while a student and now operates her own letterpress business.
The old adage is
true: You cant judge a book by its cover. But if you want to know the
real story behind the book, you need to look beyond the content too.
In terms of really understanding the meaning of a book, you need to
get into the history of how it was printed, made and put together, said
Curtis Small Jr., senior assistant librarian in the Special Collections
Department at the University of Delaware Library, Museums and Press.
Thats the crux of bibliography, a field that examines the various
aspects that go into the making of a book or printed object especially
the material aspects, like paper, watermarks, bindings, illustrations,
typography and typesetting and how they change with time and
African American literature has long been understudied and
under-recorded in the field of bibliography. Black people had a hard
time getting published and a harder time staying in print, so it was a
challenge to find the information to study the history of that
literature, Small said.
To delve deeper into the history of African American print production
and reading, UD hosted, Black Bibliographia: Print/Culture/Art, a
symposium that encouraged scholars to come together to explore the
question, What is a black book?
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Heidi Morse (left) watches workshop leader Amos Kennedy Jr. set
letterpress type. Morse, a lecturer in the University of Michigan's
Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, attended the symposium
and the earlier workshop at UD.
The symposium, which took place April 26-27 in Morris Library and
Memorial Hall, brought together nearly 100 scholars from cultural
institutions across the country who specialize in book history, visual
studies and material culture. Small organized the symposium with Laura
Helton, assistant professor of English, and Jesse Erickson, coordinator
of Special Collections and Digital Humanities, assistant professor of
English, and associate director of the Interdisciplinary Humanities
Curators, librarians, archivists, art historians, digital humanists,
book artists and others contributed to the conversations in meaningful
Tia Blassingame book artist, director of Scripps College Press and
owner of Primrose Press was one speaker. Book artists, like
Blassingame, know the history of bookmaking techniques and can use older
techniques to make a statement or to prompt the audience to think. In
this way, artists books stand as a testament to and reflection of
Through the use of handmade paper, printmaking techniques, book
binding, letterpress printing and period typefaces, Blassingame creates
pieces of art that allow viewers to think of, and discuss, issues of
race. They allow viewers to reflect on disturbing history in different
Part of what we wanted to do was to bring people together who dont
usually get together to have these conversations, Small said. If
youre working on the history of illustration, what a book artist is
doing wont necessarily inform your research, but its still part of the
whole. It will inform the whole picture.
The discussions that ensued were part of a historic gathering,
according to the symposiums keynote speaker Meredith L. McGill,
associate professor of English at Rutgers University. Many of us felt
as if much-desired conversations were happening for the first time in
our lives, McGill said. All kinds of joy rebounded from those walls.
A panel at one of the symposium sessions featured (from left) Autumn Womack from
Princeton University, Korey Garibaldi from University of Notre Dame,
Emily Kader from University of North Carolina and Heidi Morse from
University of Michigan.
Much of that joy stemmed from the research, projects and opportunities presented.
Take, for instance, the discussion of African American printer and
illustrator Patrick Henry Reason by Phillip Troutman of George
Washington University. During his presentation, Troutman said that
Reason used a specific type of engraving stipple engraving, which uses
dots of various sizes and densities to render black skin tones. At
the time, most other illustrations that were engravings werent using
the technique to achieve that effect.
In bibliography, were interested in the different ways books can be
illustrated and what you can learn from the different illustration
techniques used in a book, Small said. In this case, we learned how
someone had used technology to represent African Americans physically.
We had never heard this research before.
During Fridays keynote, McGill and Jacqueline Goldsby, professor of
English and African American Studies at Yale University, discussed the
Black Bibliography Project, a Mellon Foundation-funded digital project
that will not only help fill in information gaps about African American
literature, but create a bibliography model specific to it. This
web-based tool will allow scholars to collaboratively document African
American literary histories while addressing the specific challenges and
nuances of African American publishing, like oral versions of texts,
that dont fit within traditional bibliographies.
[This project] is going to be cutting-edge in terms of linked data
to allow for more robust kinds of searches, Small said. Its the kind
of stuff that will take many years to develop, but the symposium
attendees were just beside themselves [with excitement].
The history of print culture looks at the material aspects and
different technologies that changed throughout time. A pre-conference
workshop offered attendees a chance to get hands-on experience with the
technique of letterpress printing at Raven Press, operated by the
Department of Art and Design in UDs Studio Arts Building.
Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., a commercial printer based in Detroit and
widely known for his bold and artistic hand-pressed posters, led the
workshop. He demonstrated letterpress typesetting, showing participants
how to apply colored inks to individual letters using a small roller,
position paper in the press and turn the hand crank to roll the paper
over the letters. Attendees were able to don aprons and try out the
inking and printing process themselves to learn more about the technique
once frequently used in African American printing.
The Center for Material Culture Studies and the Library, Museums and
Press sponsored the symposium, which served as the CMCS Biennial
Conference in Material Culture. The College of Arts and Sciences, the
Paul R. Jones Initiative and the Department of English were also
The topic for this years symposium was selected by a team that
sought new ways of covering African American voices, said Martin
Brueckner, professor of English and co-director of UDs Center for
Material Culture Studies (CMCS). He said panelists were invited from a
wide range of backgrounds, encompassing academics and practitioners, and
reflecting the broad definition of material culture we have at the
University of Delaware.
Attendees actively tweeted their reactions and takeaways throughout
the symposium. For a deeper look at the research, projects and
opportunities discussed during the event, read through the #BlackBib thread on Twitter.
Article by Allison Ebner and Ann Manser; photos by Kathy F. Atkinson and Evan Krape
Published June 17, 2019