Presence: A Project of the Yale Program in the History of the Book

The Yale Program in the Book is pleased to announce its program for the 2020-2021 academic year.  This year, the program has invited participants to engage in a creative and critical project centered on the meanings of presence in relation to the material text   To be present in the archive, to be present with the material text, to be found or lost, survive, bear witness: these are only a few of the valences by which the role of presence is charged in relation to the material text.  The tenacious power of these relationships has only been emphasized by the political circumstances of our historical moment.

Each of our participants brings an original and incisive critical voice to their work as book historians. We are thrilled that they have accepted our invitation to take part, and know that you will be as excited as we are to see the project unfold over the year.   The program’s participants include:

39 Step Press, represented by members Dennis Duncan, Gill Partington, and Adam Smyth.  In their own words: “We are a group of academics interested in the history of the printed page. In 2015 we bought a wrought iron Model 4 letterpress printer and founded 39 Step Press. Since then -  both collectively and individually - we’ve been doing practical research on the quirks and distinctiveness of print, on what can go wrong and the effects that produces. We are all interested - in different ways - in the errors and accidental substitutions that creep into typesetting, and the glitches, inky smudges and blanks that printers usually try to avoid.”

Tia Blassingame: A book artist and printmaker exploring the intersection of race, history, and perception, Tia Blassingame often incorporates archival research and her own poetry in her artist’s book projects for nuanced discussions of racism in the United States. In 2019, Blassingame founded the Book/Print Artist/Scholar of Color collective to bring Book History and Print Culture scholars into conversation and collaboration with BIPOC book artists, papermakers, curators, letterpress printers, printmakers for building community and support systems. She is an Assistant Professor of Book Arts at Scripps College and serves as the Director of Scripps College Press, an experimental letterpress and bookbinding laboratory.

Bonnie Mak is an associate professor at the University of Illinois, with appointments in the School of Information Sciences, History, and Medieval Studies. She studies the production and circulation of knowledge, with a particular focus on visualization practices from antiquity to today.

Jesse Meyer is president of Pergamena Parchments and Leathers in Montgomery NY. He has been producing animal skin parchment material and researching the process since he began working at the Meyer family tannery after receiving his BFA fine arts degree. He is fascinated by the large and subtle range of qualities that can be elicited from animal skins.

Each participant has been invited to write an essay and to create an archive of that text.  The essays will be published as a series of chapbooks; each participant’s essay and archive will be added to the Beinecke Library’s permanent collections.  Over the course of the year, we will schedule a series of public panel discussions and meetings with Yale students, for the opportunity to discuss the project with the participants.

We are very much looking forward to the project’s unfolding over the course of the year.  Please follow us here on the website or on twitter (@yalebookhistory) for updates and further information on the program over the Fall semester.