Week 7: drafting my Literature Review

At the end of week 8, I have to hand in a draft of my literature review. Here is where I got up to at this point:

How does vernacular typography contribute to a sense of place and belonging in the community of Walthamstow? 

Visual communication is ubiquitous in every environment that we inhabit, from private space to public spheres, in the form of signs, advertisements and arts. Furthermore, humankind’s instinct for language unites us, allowing us to express ourselves and our cultural identity, whether orally and aurally or through language’s written form: type and lettering.

Stowe Framework seeks to explore the vernacular typography in Walthamstow, an area of North East London, and highlight how the typography informs us of the changing demographics and builds the area’s culture. This literature review will present the history of the area and its communities before it considers how current academic studies apply in this instance. Finally, the review will consider how Stowe Framework can bridge academic study and community engagement to enhance awareness of, and safeguard our visual history.

Walthamstow

History

Located in the northeast of London, UK, the Domesday Book recorded Walthamstow as “Wilcumestou”, or the place of welcome, from which Stowe Framework derives its name (Mills, 2010). It remained a rural area until the nineteenth century, when train travel allowed office workers to live in the borough and commute to work, boosting the population. The population rise was echoed in the 1980s when the Victoria Line of the Underground extended to reach the area.

Through the centuries, 

Examples of Typography in Walthamstow

Walthamstow has three areas that can be considered commercial centres: the first, Walthamstow Village; and the High Street and Wood Street, both of which formed as a result of the transport links to the area.

The link between Typography and Culture

“Typography is more than legibility, and more than aesthetics. It is the search for greater power in the written word. It is the embodiment of a culture’s identity. It is the celebration of humanity” (Blankenship, 2003).

“Type does not exist within a vacuum, it is predicated on cultural change and motivated by underlying social structures that may not be readily apparent to an observer looking in” (Snodgrass, 2018).

Studies on typography

In 2006, Gaydos launched a project called Visual Scavenger Hunt that asked people around the world to photograph objects in their environment. He had the goal “to have individuals focus on how visual communication can make our communities similar, and also how it makes them unique” (Gaydos, 2007, p.93). He compiled the submissions from 25 people from 20 different cultures that focussed on a list of subjects such as a business card, a restaurant menu, and a piece of graffiti to create a “contrast between variable and control [that] made for an exciting cross-cultural comparison” (Gaydos, 2007, p.93). The study was as broad as it could be, with the instructions translated into thirteen languages, and gave Gaydos insight into a wide variety of cultures. 

The heart of the project is very similar to Stowe Framework in that looking at the visual culture can represent the communities around us. From there, a researcher can conclude the similarities and differences between the visual responses and, therefore, those societies.

In comparison, Stowe Framework focusses on one area, Walthamstow. Firstly, the encompassing borough of Waltham Forest “is one of the most diverse areas in the country” with more than a third of its population born abroad according to the 2011 Census (Waltham Forest Council, 2020). As such, the area could be viewed as a microcosm of our global society and functions as a concentrated ground where “cultures hybridize and reinvent themselves” (Gaydos, 2007, p.63). Stowe Framework aims to highlight and honour the many strands of the Walthamstow community.

The control of the physical area opens up the research to a broader selection of typographic examples than the Visual Scavenger Hunt. However, a list of potential examples does support study participants whilst they conduct research.

Research methods

I have my own bias

Can I look outside, given that I moved here only recently?

Given the wide range of people, there will be different views.

Resources

Mills, A., 2010. A Dictionary Of London Place Names. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gaydos, B., 2007. [Ethno]Graphic Design. Richmond, VA: Virginia Commonwealth University.

Blankenship, S., 2003. Cultural Considerations: Arabic Calligraphy and Latin Typography. Design Issues, 19(2), pp.60-63.

Snodgrass, N., 2018. Facilitating Diversity: The Designer’s Role In Supporting Cultural Representations Through Multi-Script Type Design And Research. Master of Fine Arts. Kent State University.

Walthamforest.gov.uk. 2020. Statistics About The Borough | Waltham Forest Council. [online] Available at: <https://www.walthamforest.gov.uk/content/statistics-about-borough&gt; [Accessed 31 October 2020].

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