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Department of Archaeology


At the intersection among the arts, science, and technology, printing is widely recognised as the invention of the millennium. However, and in spite of a resurgence of traditional typographic methods among artists and craftspeople, letterpress equipment and technology face an uncertain future.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Small performances is a three year (2024-2026) interdisciplinary project that will make a substantial contribution to the history of printing technology, whilst ensuring it is a living process that will continue into the future. At its heart is the exceptional collection of typographic punches designed, cut and used at the workshop of England's foremost printer, John Baskerville (1707-75), and now housed in the Historical Printing Room, Cambridge University Library. Bringing together printing historians, heritage scientists, craftspeople, and type designers around the AHRC-funded Cambridge Heritage Science Hub (CHERISH), this project will reconstruct 18th-century punch-cutting using a combination of pioneering scientific and artisanal methods that will benefit current industrial and craft applications as well as educational projects. 

A key element of the project will be the reverse engineering of the craft of punch-cutting, through a combination of pioneering scientific analyses borrowed from heritage science, engineering and archaeology, and experimental replications involving jewellers, blacksmiths, metal engravers, and typeface designers. Using forensic and engineering approaches, we will evaluate the loss of design fidelity that occurs between the manufacture of the punch and the character that appears in the printed book. We will also digitise Baskerville’s key books and create a new digital Baskerville typeface, in addition to a variety of knowledge exchange ventures.

While the collection and the project are based at the University of Cambridge, the project will draw significantly from expertise and resources at Birmingham City University, as well as a broader network of collaborators. 


Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Standard Research Grant

Team Members

Caroline Archer

Ann-Marie Carey

Maciej Pawlikowski

Julia Montes Landa

Liam Sims

Mark Box

Scott Maloney

Marija Drinjakovic

Riccardo Olocco

Michele Patane

Project Tags

Science, Technology and Innovation
Material Culture
Periods of interest: 
Geographical areas: 
Research Expertise / Fields of study: 
Museum Studies
Material Culture
Artefact Analysis & Technology
Cultural Heritage
Heritage Studies
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