Academic journal article Journal of New Zealand Literature

Cultures of Print: Materiality, Memory, and the Rituals of Transmission

Academic journal article Journal of New Zealand Literature

Cultures of Print: Materiality, Memory, and the Rituals of Transmission

Article excerpt


The 1914 Labour Day commemorations in Wellington marked the revival of a time-honoured tradition and were celebrated in style. The event was recorded in the pages of the monthly Australasian Typographical journal by an unidentified correspondent who regaled the printing fraternity with a description of the procession and the Wellington Typographical Union's awardwinning float:

Its exhibit was mounted on a big lorry, nicely decorated and draped, and was made of an overhead wireless plant, compositors' desks, stone, and hand-printing presses. Compositors were shown setting the type, and the presses were kept busy printing circulars, which were distributed to the public while the procession was on its way to the park. Printed on a very large matrix, which rested on a large setting-stick, the public were reminded that 'the linotype revolutionised newspaper production.' The whole represented the receipt of news and the production and distribution of the newspaper.1

Despite a float decorated with the motto 'Ye old Order Changeth / Yielding Place to the New' and festooned with illustrations of the new-style machine presses that had arrived in the colony some twenty years before, this example of the printing fraternity's conscious antiquarianism combined with a recognition of the twin imperatives of change and adaptation sent a mixed message. Printers were desperate to keep in touch with their old world past for self-legitimation and craft respectability; yet they were also acutely aware of the need to reshape their centuries-old, socio-cultural practices on new soil. Such rituals and their textual re-incarnations in the international typographical press tell us as much about specific occasions celebrated as about the ways in which the power, authority, values, and virtues of these aristocrats of artisans were transmitted and memorialised in an era of large-scale trade migration and tremendous technological change.

This paper argues that printers' trade journals - the typographical press - played a critical role in manufacturing, disseminating, and sustaining the trade identity and socio -cultural memory practices of printers. The journal was a rich miscellany of domestic and international printological news from the sublime to the eccentric. It included trade union and technical information, pension and benefit schemes, book reviews and notices of printers' library acquisitions, trade advertisements, reports of social activities, the results of sporting events, literary works and quotations, lists of typos and howlers, and memorials of one sort or another to the human fragment: obituaries, biographies of prominent trade personalities, lists of union members in arrears, and information purveyed or solicited about mobile members and friends. All in all, the journals built up a picture of a profession comfortable in the skin of writing and reading, and conscious of its aristocratic heritage amongst skilled artisans. To date, however, typographical journals have been selectively mined for information about the politics of emergent trade unionism and technical issues in an era of dynamic technological change. Their role as intersecting points in a sophisticated global communication network mediated and sustained through print has yet to be studied; nor has a systematic methodology been developed to analyse such networks.2

New Zealand printers and their material artefacts contributed to the reciprocating translocal textual cultures of colonialism, imperialism, and globalisation in multiple and complex ways. As local producers of information that circulated throughout the Anglo-world and beyond through ever-increasing and farreaching tentacles of transport, communication, and migrant networks, printers and members of the allied book trades helped to fashion a global economy of print. In addition, their selfconscious engagement with the printing trade's rituals - the archaic chapel system, workers' wayzgoose festivals, and trade union parades - connected printers with their peers as well as their past, evoking history while manufacturing memory. …

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