Histories of print in South & Southeast Asia often touch on technologies of production in broad, cursory ways that conform to predetermined ideas about their deployment, their function, and their impact. However, there are ample historical indications of local engagements that contradict the characterisation of the print revolution as a uniform global phenomenon – or indeed as a revolution at all. Have narratives of influence and impact obscured the many personal and material engagements that constitute the social history of print and technology in Asian contexts? Moving away from sweeping histories of printing and publishing, this conference aims to focus on the more intimate scale of materials, processes, practices, as well as on labourers, tinkerers, entrepreneurs and other individuals in the history of print in South and Southeast Asia.
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Drawing on a selection of non-keyboard ‘index’ typewriters, this exhibition explores how input mechanisms and alphabetic arrangements were devised and contested continually in the process of popularising typewrites as personal objects. The display particularly looks at how the letters of the alphabet have been variously comprehended, accessed, and handled, before being impressed on paper. The material on display demonstrates how this multiplicity was both occasioned by and flourished through a combination of mechanical ingenuity, conceptual reformulations, and commercial adventurism. As a set of imaginative responses to ‘mechanising’ the alphabet, index typewriters raise important questions in the key encounter (no pun intended!) between writing and technology.
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