Week 1: Literature Review


I started with Lecture 4 (Rediscovering a Lost Typeface) as it caught my attention first! I do remember this story when it broke and was fascinated by the work that Robert Green did. Mudlarking has always been popular along the Thames because of the riches to be found there, but to search for such small pieces was a work of love/madness! He acknowledged his luck that either side of Hammersmith Bridge has a rocky bed rather than silty one further down.

The Thames has always been a dumping site for all of London, and I’ve heard stories of type being thrown by the case into the river once new technologies came along. Then, it was old-fashioned clutter and now it is a sought-after and valuable piece of heritage.

The most fascinating part for me was the division of the typeface after the acrimonious split between Cobden-Sanderson and Emery Walker. In a deal negotiated by a mutual contact, it was agreed that C-S could use the typeface for setting the Doves Press publications, and on his death ownership would pass to Emery Walker. However, C-S, despite his socialist politics, decided he did not want to comply with the agreement and gradually threw the typeface bit by bit into the Thames.

Green’s efforts to digitise the typeface is amazing, but I am more interested in the original – because it is linked with William Morris, who was a resident of Walthamstow, where I live. It was inspired by Venetian printers Nicolas Jensen and Jacobus Rubeus, which also formed the inspiration for William Morris’s Golden Type. Walker had assisted Morris at Kelmscott Press in previous years.

Both Morris and Walker were inspired by the same source, but had different interpretations, as we can see above. Morris’s Golden Type had heavier strokes that exaggerated inkiness and gothic details. This fitted his medievalist text and his connection to the pre-Raphaelites such as Rossetti and Burne-Jones.

Doves Type, on the other hand, was constructed by Emery Walker under Cobden Sanderson’s influence and he believed that Golden Type was too sensuous and that a typeface should not distract the reader from the text itself. C-S wanted the typeface to be an interpretation of the historical influence but “a type for its time” in the early twentieth century. Doves Type is therefore “lean, elegant, subdued” in comparison to its Arts and Crafts relative.

That one influence can inspire different outcomes inspires me: Morris loved reaching into the past and his design for a typeface clearly suits and reflects that. C-S was typesetting for his readers and felt a different approach was necessary to suit his audience whilst still echoing the past. I want to explore this further: how can I pay tribute to the past of Walthamstow whilst representing its modern multi-culturalism. This is more important to me than harking back to the past.

Above we have two layouts: one from Doves Press and the other from Kelmscott, each using their own typeface. C-S oversaw the typesetting for this edition of Hamlet, which has a sparse page with white space and all around. He uses paragraph breaks, leading and line spacing effectively to help the reader, with red type indicating stage directions and headings. Morris, in contrast, filled the page with illustration and decorative letters in similar ratio margins and chose tightly-leaded caps in a justified block with leaves marking paragraph breaks. He also uses red ink to draw emphasis, but the overall effect is very dense and less easy to read. As much as I love Morris’s work, I prefer C-S’s approach to putting the audience’s reading needs over decoration.

I’m going through the lectures in an odd order as to what interests me at the time. Tonight I decided to watch Joseph Pochodzaj’s lecture as he was a tutor for the first module and I was fascinated by his approach to community engagement and psychogeography, a topic that also interests me.

The main points I took away from this is to put research out there to get critical feedback and to help propel the project. I think this is really important as often in community project the main goal is not the end result but the process.

New Perspectives: A Celebration at Balfron

It’s also left me questioning what will my community be left with? I need to make sure I give back when asking for people’s time and efforts to help me with my project. I want to avoid a project like the one above that Pochodzaj thought looked good but didn’t give anything back to the community. How useful will a typeface be for a community. Will they be interested? I talked to my flatmate about how I can do this and will reveal soon.

Pochodzaj made a point to capture research and participation as you go as that can provide valuable insight into how the project is received and be an end in itself.

The next lecture I watched was the Research-Led Report with Bec Worth and Chris Lacey from the Theorised Lecture series as I thought that it would follow the same vein as the Pochodzaj’s lecture above.

Listening to their experience of conducting a Workers’ Enquiry I was struck by how little had changed from Marx’s 101 Questions in 1880. I’ve also been reading Useful Work versus Useless Toil by William Morris – whom I mentioned above as a socialist – and it is remarkable how much resonates with today’s society. For example:

“we all know that they [rich people] consume a great deal while they produce nothing … they have to be kept at the expense pf those who do work, just as paupers have, and are a mere burden on the community” (page 5)

Our right-wing governemnt has banned an education on any subject that discusses alternatives to capitalism :

“Economist and former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis said: “Imagine an educational system that banned schools from enlisting into their curricula teaching resources dedicated to the writings of British writers like William Morris, Iris Murdoch, Thomas Paine even. Well, you don’t have to. Boris Johnson’s government has just instructed schools to do exactly that.” ” (Busby, 2020)

For me, this makes it more important to deconstruct what I know about type and use my community to build a project that shows the everyday reality of type in the wild. I really liked Werker magazine’s 365 Days of Work calendar that showed photos of people in their workplace to show the reality of their jobs.

Werker Collective

What would a similar study done now show? People working on beds, or trying to entertain children whilst on a work call? The BBC asked people to send photos in:

Soo Kim from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-52675825

I feel like the selection of images is highly edited and overall shows people enjoying the change of landscape. What would a larger proportion of these images show, and what would happen if the survey was opened up to people of all backgrounds, not just those who read the centre-right media?

Worth and Lacey made the very good point that you should conduct extensive research on what is already out there so as to not repeat exact studies and to use it as a jumping point from which you can extend the research. A study could also show the gaps of previous research, and also how time has affected the results.

The long lead time between data collection and publication can have a substantial effect on how the research is viewed. How quickly will this information go out of date, how can that be mitigated? I’d like to play with data being represented live, with workshop results being published as soon as possible, with people able to share without a filter as much as possible. I need to look at how to do this.

I really want to take my project out of what type should be and focus on how it could represent the people living in Walthamstow. To borrow a phrase from a project I looked at last term, I want to display Vernacular Typography!


One thought on “Week 1: Literature Review

  1. Pingback: Week 1 Overview – Anna Robinette

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