Mimeo Lab: (Re)printing innovations

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Mimeo Lab: (Re)Printing Innovations is a digital storytelling project about the history, use, and restoration of mimeograph printing technology that turns my first-year writing classroom into a humanities lab. As an extension of my students’ ongoing research about the New York School of poets and artists, Mimeo Lab pairs their investigation of mimeograph-produced primary sources with hands-on use of this era-specific printing technology. Funded by the Writing and Communication Program and Honors Program at Georgia Tech, the project is led by students in Dr. Nick Sturm’s "Poetry, Painting, and Film in the New York School" over the Fall 2019 and Spring 2020 semesters.

The writers and artists of the New York School were at the center of the “Mimeo Revolution,” an era in experimental art communities in the 1960s during which countless magazines, books, pamphlets, flyers, and poems were printed and produced using mimeograph machines. Mimeograph machines were the main printing technology used by New York School artists due to their inexpensive operating costs, speed of production, and small size. If you were a young poet, access to a mimeograph machine meant the freedom to become your own independent press. It was a technology of aesthetic rebellion. Surpassed by reproduction technologies like photocopiers and outpaced by the increased consolidation of publishing industries, mimeograph duplication quickly became obsolete in the mid-1980s. However, the proliferation of mimeograph arts magazines is the immediate predecessor for the rise of DIY zine culture, itself the material antecedent to the rise of blogs in the digital age. “(Re)Printing Innovations” allows students to become participants in these lineages of artists and writers as they restore and experiment with mimeograph machines to (re)activate this “dead media” into a functional lab of analog printers.

The Mimeo Lab currently contains three mimeograph machines—a Speed-O-Print Liberator 50, an A.B. Dick Model 77B, and a Gestetner Model 130. Students are restoring each machine to design and print their own art and poetry magazines on this retro, pre-digital technology. The goal of “(Re)Printing Innovations" is to pair students' archival research of DIY arts cultures with the active maker culture among students at Georgia Tech. By experimenting with hands-on creative practices using era-specific technologies, students will experience the mechanical, historical, and creative processes of the writers they study as they produce their own original cultural artifacts. The project will be presented in the form of a student-made website focused on digital storytelling, including videos, research into a selection of New York School magazines, and digital versions of their own mimeograph artifacts, thereby adapting students’ research of analog technologies with the affordances of digital mediums. “(Re)Printing Innovations” will be presented at a series of public showcases in Fall 2019 and Spring 2020 that will include how-to demonstrations of the mimeograph machines.

About the course: "Poetry, Painting, and Film in the New York School" focuses on the multimodal aesthetic of the New York School of artists. Many of the poems students read in the course were originally published in mimeograph editions, including one of the course's main literary texts--The Sonnets by Ted Berrigan--published 1964 in an edition of 300. Students will read these texts in their contemporary editions and study their early mimeograph editions at the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory University. In this way, students will read and analyze texts while experiencing the book as a changing, active material technology. As part of a full-class collaborative research project, a team of students will conduct further archival research about mimeograph magazines and zines, investigating these artifacts as innovative media of DIY arts cultures in order to learn about and use these machines as (re)activated technology.

Merging archival scholarship and digital pedagogy to turn the classroom into its own DIY culture, I am looking forward to documenting this project here in the coming months. Check back for more information soon and follow us on Twitter at @Mimeo_Lab.

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