History is not just a place for the museums. We live and make history every single day, so why should the historically famous printing press be any different?
Preserving heritage items is something that humans are taught from a young age. A child is told to take care of belongings so that the items to not get ruined. When a child spills juice on the antique that grandma made fifty years ago, mom will likely lose her temper. Even my aunt hangs onto a broken spoon that her grandmother used to cook food during my aunt’s toddler years.
Preservation is good of course, as famous paintings we still have in museums today could have been stolen or received stains from a careless tourist who did not read the “No Open Drink Containers” sign at the main entrance of the museum. Museum visitors will see items preserved behind a glass encasement with a built-in alarm system just so that there is no chance of an object being touched by human hands or other items. With preservation, humans have been able not only to reserve the original artworks they have come to love, but also to copy them in other forms that are more accessible to everyday people in the form of pictures in books or images on the internet of a famous painting.
What happens when people only sit back and admire history without actually partaking in it any longer, though? Sure, there are many people that have seen a painting by Vincent van Gogh through the internet or in a book, but how many of these fans can recreate art similar to his style? When the original painting can no longer be preserved, with the exceptions of historians and hardcore fans, modern viewers will not know the type of canvas or paints Vincent van Gogh used and will have nothing to compare imitation attempts to. If modern people tried to recreate something similar, they would likely be unable to identify or find the necessary resources to do so.
In the film Pressing On: The Letterpress Film, speakers share the significance of keeping printing presses active, even if presses are not the most efficient way of producing modern text-based entertainment. Persons interviewed in the film realize that modern people need to continuously use items from the past in order to understand how to preserve such items. Somebody who regularly works with an old small press would understand how to fix parts of the machine that quit working, how to replace items that cannot be sold regularly, and so forth. There is also a passion and fascination that is passed between generations of people, thus allowing for historical objects to remain significant and actively used. In “The Book,” Borsuk notes how books arise from “cultural exchange” that takes place over centuries and allowing preservation to shift between forms (1).
While there are some items better left behind a glass protector, the true art behind any creation is kept alive through consistent involvement and admiration.
“The Book as Object.” The Book, by Amaranth Borsuk, The MIT Press, 2018.