This course will provide students with an introduction to typography in the early modern period, focussing on English books but taking an international outlook. It combines perspectives from descriptive bibliography, type design, literary history, and the study of the material text. We will cover the technical aspects of typography, including how fonts were manufactured, distributed, and used, procedures for identifying and dating type, as well as the language used by typographers and bibliographers to describe it. Primary materials are integrated into each seminar, giving students an evidence-based foundation. These will not only include canonical examples of typographical firsts and the work of highly skilled printers, but also the messier output of illegal presses and books that demonstrate the experience of the average reader.

We will not only be describing typography, but interpreting it too: how could typography augment the meaning of a text? Early modern printers made use of three families of typeface (blackletter, roman, and italic). In this system, typographic contrast resulted in typographic meaning, and the reading of a text was influenced by its appearance. Scholars have long been interested in ascertaining how early readers would have reacted to this contrast, arguing that certain typefaces were connected to variables such as language, class, religion, genre, and ‘lowbrow’ culture. This course will provide an overview of such interpretations, while also equipping the student to reach their own historically informed conclusions. By considering these variables alongside the texts themselves, we will learn that typography has the power to make the social context of a text’s production legible on the page.

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