The Document is in the Details

This week I have been busy scanning documents as I settle into my new position as a CLIR CCEPS Fellow. In particular, I have been scanning records from the 1920s and 1930s. When you are working with documents that are 80 or 90 years old, the historical importance transcends the contents of the page. Whether it is the paper quality, the ink, the typewriter impressions, or the handwritten notes in the margins, there are more than words held within these pages.

In particular, I have become transfixed by typography. Many of the documents I am dealing with have unique and oftentimes artistic typography. In some recently digitized pamphlets, the first letter of the first paragraph is large and ornate, oddly reminiscent of the kinds of letters seen in old bibles. The images below are just a few examples of the kinds of interesting typography I have found in the process of scanning various documents.

Another typographical element of the documents that fascinates me is the typewriter text. I have lived in an era of computers and printers. Consequently, I have lived free of white out, crossed-out words, and hand-corrected typos. These details, when I come across them while perusing documents, give a sense of life to the person who typed the words. There is a humanity and vulnerability seeing a corrected mistake in someone's work.

However, it is not just the typos within documents that remind me that an individual or a group of individuals once worked with these same documents many years ago. I often catch comments in the margins, aimless scribbles or doodles on the backs of pages, or handwritten notes among the more formal documents. Each handwritten addition adds personality to the creator of the document and as I wait for the scanner to finish whirring or the file to save, my mind wanders on the life this person lived 90 years ago.

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