This past May I spent time perusing UGA’s (extensive) Special Collections Library archives through Special Collections Faculty Fellowship, which provides support for development of archives–centered pedagogy.
Along with five other faculty from various disciplines we planned student activities and archives interactions for our courses. Topics ranged from disaster preparedness to investigative reporting to the sociology of drugs and alcohol. We were able to collaborate with UGA Special Collections archivists and librarians.
The Hargrett Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection was especially relevant (and bonus: librarian just happens to be a bit of a typofile and aficionado of early printing.)
In the case of typography courses, working with the archives not only allowed the students to learn about historical classifications of typography in a tangible way, but helps address the seeming deficiency of familiarity physical artifacts and their tactile qualities (that seems to have developed from getting so much of their information digitally).
Documents ranged from a 1785 specimen of printing types from London type founders John Frye & Sons, to early 1960s Defense department instructions for building your home fallout shelter. More recent finds relevant to design and typography include circus ephemera from the early 20th century, the 1963 NASA phone directory (including phone etiquette tips) and the complete collection of (thoughtful and creative) materials sent out to the official R.E.M. fan club from REM HQ.
“This is the smallest letter in the world.”
—> specimen of printing types from John Frye & Sons Type Founders, London (1785)
Other items of interest: a small broadside from 1789 printed in Augusta, GA that offers a 30 guineas reward for the return of, among other items, 36 pairs of shoe buckles and 15 pairs of gold edges knee buckles. It’s full of antiquated long S characters that seem nearly illegible now, reading like lowercase fs.
A favorite find was a series of Italian opera and theatre posters from late 1700s through mid 1800s which as groupings clearly displayed the evolution of typography from old style to modern and slab serif. Also, it‘s impressive that these delicate ephemera survived then made their way from Imola, Italy to an archives in Georgia. (Well, technically the broadsides were around before it was Italy per se: the area was occupied by revolutionary French forces in the late 1700s, then occupied by the Austrians in 17990, then united to the Cisalpine Republic which became a part of the kingdom Italy in the mid 19th century.)
The 1793 Act of dissolve the Marriage of John Street, which requested the king allow the dissolution of marriage because the wife, who had entered into “Criminal intercourse and adulterous conversation” with a captain “in one of your majesty’s regiments of foot”:
On this 1847 theater broadside from the National Theatre in Boston for a play called Witchcraft—about the history of the Salem witch trials—a line at the top states, “No Ladies admitted to the Theatre unless accompanied by a gentleman.”