Gutenberg’s Children: Making Print in 19th-Century Mexico City

Saturday, January 9, 2016
Galleria Exhibit Hall (Hilton Atlanta)
Corinna Zeltsman, Duke University
My dissertation examines transformations in Mexico City’s printing industry across the long nineteenth century, from the late colonial era to the Revolution of 1910. It argues that urban printers shaped politics and broader social and cultural change not only through their printed products, but also through shifting connections to and negotiations with powerbrokers and the emerging national state. By exploring the “material politics” of print—industry practices, main actors, their social position, aspirations, networks, and activities—it considers both how printers contributed and responded to state formation, and how they shaped the meanings of print as it transformed from a colonial technology of power to a more multivalent and ambiguous medium. Far from a process predetermined by technological advancements or severed from colonial legacies, print’s possible uses and meanings changed because of the many fraught interactions—which formed a rich dialogue about the relationship between print and power—between printers, government officials, workers, and intellectuals.

Through the diverse materials they issued, printers constructed an array of public personae that drew upon the fluid dynamics of printshop production, where intellectuals and workers collaborated in a virtually all-male environment marked by hierarchies based on education, job type, and experience. By exploring printers’ ambiguous social position—better educated than fellow artisans yet stigmatized, even if they ascended to the ranks of Mexico City’s intellectual and political elite, by the stain of ink under their fingernails —my research considers the contested boundaries between manual and intellectual labors, which printers challenged and reinforced through print.

My poster for the AHA session will focus on the ambiguous social position of Mexico’s printers, comparing visual and textual representations made by elites against self-representations produced both by top-level printshop owners and printshop workers. By situating these representations against changing industry features including technology, labor organization and relations to the national state, it explores how an increasingly wide range of printshop actors used print to challenge demeaning portrayals—even as they reinforced hierarchies with their arguments. On the one hand, my poster will offer excerpts of elite perspectives on the printshop, from such sources as memoirs, caricatures, and legal lawsuits. On the other hand, it will examine (through select examples) how top-level printers used paratexts and typography to assert (and sometimes downplay) authority over the texts they issued. It also explores how printshop workers pushed for greater recognition through a subversive type specimen book, and charts the emergence of self-portraits (visual and textual) in the worker press of the late nineteenth-century. (Key examples will be supplemented by a digital slide show of printer caricatures.)

Because printer personae rested ambivalently on their status as the manual elaborators of intellectual materials, I will also engage AHA visitors with the opportunity to try out an integral part of nineteenth century printshop experience: setting type by hand from hand-written copy, using supplies I bring from my personal collection.

See more of: Poster Session #2
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