Conference Review: Women in Print

By Jessica Farrell-Jobst |

The University of Birmingham recently held a conference on Women in Print, hosted by the Centre for Printing History and Culture on 13-14 September. The conference focused on research about female participants in producing, sponsoring and designing print culture.

Seeking to inspire conversation about the role of women in print history, this inclusive conference brought together an interdisciplinary and wide-ranging group of speakers and delegates, approaching a familiar topic in a multitude of ways. Paper topics ranged from antiquity, with Linda McGuire’s paper on the female contemporaries of Cicero, to the present day, with Maria Dean presenting her endeavours to engage the public with Typography. The conference also introduced the attendees to women currently engaged in print culture. Both Shoshanna Kessler, printer, and Maria Dean, graphic designer, captivated the audience with their recent projects incorporating the printing press, print design and typographical elements into their artistic practice.

Helen Smith opened the conference Thursday morning, presenting on “ Widows, orphans and othere ‘erors,” in which she connected terms for compositor errors to the idea of widows and orphans, as considered socially left behind. Smith argued for a study of the book trade in which women were an integral part of the culture, rather than a collection of exceptions to a rule. Her discussion echoed throughout the following panels as the theme of women being overlooked or absent in the historical records was continuously reiterated.

Delegates were also treated to an organized panel from members of The Women’s Print History Project based at Simon Fraser University, headed by Michelle Levy, in which the speakers discussed both the hardships of finding sources for women authors and the rewarding discoveries made through the use of their database. Postgraduate students Kate Moffat & Kandice Sharren related the reality of women’s invisibility and the problem with historical assumptions that suggest women did not participate in certain activities, or only in a limited way, that paint a picture devoid of women in the historical mindset.

Over the two days, scholarship on female print purveyors was advanced through lively discussion and shared appreciation for an underrepresented topic.  Women who have been hidden by the past, through lack of sources or gendered postulations, were finally given a spotlight and speakers and delegates were rewarded with a new appreciation for revisionist gender history.


Thanks to Catherine Dixon (@ThinkingType) for permission to use her photo.

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