Texas Tech students with a love for art, literature and culture have the chance to experience all of the above with the Department of English’s letterpress laboratory.
Faculty members across the university have joined forces to bring a letterpress lab to Tech, and six students will have the opportunity to learn exactly how ancient texts are made.
Leigh Bonds, manager of the English Department’s letterpress lab said this is the first semester the apprenticeship is being offered, and currently it is under a trial period.
“It’s a work in progress,” she said. “Last semester inventory had to be done. This summer I worked on the curriculum. This is the first semester where all of the pieces have been in place and now we’re ready to go.”
There is no cost to participate in the apprenticeship and students do not receive course credit, Bonds said. However, students get to learn a valuable skill they may not learn anywhere else.
“It’s not always about the content, it’s also about the context,” she said. “It’s a different way of approaching literature, and I think that students get something out of looking at the material context of a book that they have never been exposed to before.”
The curriculum is designed to be self-paced and hands-on, she said.
“Since this is the first semester of the program, it is difficult for me to say with any certainty how many hours are actually involved,” Bonds said. “To be completely honest with you, I foresee it varying among the apprentices.”
All of the readings are on the department’s Moodle, a program similar to Blackboard, and the quizzes must be scheduled and completed in the department’s digital humanities lab. The field studies can be scheduled as needed, depending on the number of participants and their progress in the curriculum, and will likely last no longer than one hour each, she said.
There are three levels of the program, Bonds said. The first two apprenticeship levels will include 15 hours of lab time — five hours of cleaning and 10 hours of helping with printing.
Students are limited to what they can do during the apprenticeship, Bonds said, and cannot print independently until they finish the full curriculum. Once students have gone through each of those levels, then they may print independently upon approval of a committee.
Miles Kimball, professor of technical communications and one of the directors of the lab, said a family of a local business card printer donated the equipment in the letterpress lab. Most likely students will begin printing smaller items like keepsakes, cards and broadsides, then work up to books and editions they can sell to support the lab, he said.
Kimball said he has two goals for the letterpress lab.
“One of them is education and appreciation so that students who are studying literature and culture can understand the impact of texts on our culture,” he said. “And the second goal, I think, is to create cool things. That’s what we’re all after, to make cool stuff.”
Caroline Ordonez, a senior English major from McAllen, is an editor for Tech’s Harbinger Literary Magazine. She said she wants to learn how to use the letterpress so the magazine’s covers can be printed in the lab.
“I think it’s a really important part of being an English major,” she said. “It’s important to know the basics and where you come from.”
If people don’t understand the material conditions under which a text is made, Kimball said, it’s hard to appreciate or understand the text itself.
“It’s a teaching lab where we’re going to learn about the practices of printing of previous centuries,” he said. “You really learn about the importance of the material text and how many people are involved and what kind of processes are involved socially in creating what we call texts. If you don’t understand this kind of stuff, how texts were actually made, you can’t really appreciate the texts that we have today.”