The Projector

Amusements & Useful Devices from K. A. Wisniewski

Sampling: The Introduction to the History of Paper Course

I’m very excited about the upcoming weeks of my History of Paper course.  I’ve already blogged about setting up the course blog and the first posts will appear soon.  I also contributed an introductory post to the blog to get things started and will occasionally post year on our progress, documenting some workshops and tutorials along the way.  The following post was the first blog post on the site; I brought rolls and boxes full of different samples for the students to look at as we get started…

*Originally Appears as my Introductory Post at: Mulberry, Mummies & Marshes: Course Blog.


Once again welcome to HIST 311: “Mulberry, Mummies & Marshes: The History of Paper.”  I thought I’d kick things off by adding my own introduction (as a reminder to sign-up and submit your first posts) and summarizing our first session . . . and where we’re going the next few weeks.

My work with paper has spanned over fifteen years and included a number of positions: paper-maker, printer, publisher, editor, designer, book artist, historian, literary critic, archivist / librarian, collector, hobbyist . . . Last class, I shared the story of my first major assignment as editorial assistant for a publisher in Baltimore.  Filling in for the Production Editor, I visited the publishing house’s printer and was asked to make some vital decisions for a forthcoming work.  To my surprise, I was presented with several large binders filled with samples of every type of paper imaginable!

As a researcher and writer, my work largely focuses on eighteenth century print culture.  Interests include early American printers and printing networks, periodical literature and ephemera, and political propaganda during the American Revolution.  Related to this class, I have taught classes on “Book History”, “The American Periodical”, “the History of Graphic Design”, “Origins and Issues  of Print Media”, and “American Material Culture”, as well as a number of courses on literary criticism and history.  I am also interested in the history and future of writing and work in the Digital Humanities and digital publishing; some of my work operates in and works with the concept of Electracy, proposed by philosopher and media theorist Gregory L. Ulmer, and is represented by my role as Founding Editor of the journal Textshop Experiments.

Our First Session

After reviewing the syllabus, we spent the remainder of the session looking through over fifty types of paper (see below).  We will look more closely at many of these again in the upcoming weeks.  The goal here was to simply show a variety of paper types and to begin to think about how we can describe (and organize/catalog) them.  We can begin by assigning each type into one of seven categories: Writing paper; Printing paper; Wrapping paper; Blotting paper; Drawing paper; Handmade paper; Specialty paper.

The samples shared in class included bank paper, banana paper, book paper, cardstock / kraft (cardboard) paper, construction paper,  copy / printing paper, cotton paper, drafting and sketching film, mulberry paper, papyrus, rice paper, tissue paper, wax paper, and vellum (did I miss any?) — from Japan, Thailand, Egypt, India, Germany, France, and the U.S.

This was just a first look! There will be more . . .


As review, in our first discussion, we listed a number of ways in which we could organize and characterize these samples:

  • Handmade v. Machine-made (manufactured)
  • Finish (Coated v. Uncoated)
  • Type of Fabric / Fiber
  • Function
  • Size / Shape — Grammage (weight / thickness) — Density
  • Color / Aesthetic
  • Date of Production / Chronology
  • Geography (Nation or Place of Origin)
  • Maker / Crafts-person / Manufacturer

As the course develops, we will fully dissect each of these characteristics.

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Upcoming Work

For our next session, I asked everyone to submit an introductory post, which may in turn lead towards your first formal assignment: the Personal Essay, and to read Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy.

I will begin the session with an introduction on the History of Paper and Writing (and writing materials), which may be helpful for our Brainstorming session for the Final Projects. We will then transition into a discussion on Ong’s work and the characteristics of and transition from oral to print-literature cultures.  On Blackboard, we will see that an assignment (on producing an infographic related to Ong’s work) has already been posted and is due (via this course blog) on September 13.

I look forward to working with each of you throughout the semester!

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This entry was posted on September 5, 2017 by in Art, Books/Book-making, History, Paper, pedagogy, Printing History, Work Report / Progress and tagged , , , .
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