Publications / From stone to chip. Alois Senefelder and the invention of lithography in an international context

Opening remarks: the changing landscape of printing heritage

Aepm 2016

Alan Marshall
Chair, Association of European printing museums

Opening remarks

From stone to chip: Alois Senefelder and the invention of lithograpphy in an international context
Conference organised jointly bu the AEPM and the IAGM
Nederlands Steendruckmuseum, Valkenswaard, The Netherlands
3-5 November 2016

Each year, the AEPM meeting provides a unique occasion for printing museums, heritage workshops and collectors of historic printing machines to come together from all over Europe to meet and exchange ideas. To which, this year, have been added the many printing historians involved in the work of the IADM.

As it happens, this year’s joint AEPM/IADM meeting is particularly timely; not only because it provides us with an opportunity to get to know each other better; but also because the world in which printing museums pursue their missions is rapidly changing. Digital technologies are creating new opportunities for museums in general. But more specifically, and more fundamentally for printing museums, digital technologies are changing the very nature of their subject: to wit, print culture and graphic communication.

The scientific foundations of the work of printing museums are also changing. The “traditional world” of printing history is opening up to newer disciplines such as the renewed book history which has developed over the last generation, the history of graphic design and the history of information: new disciplines which offer valuable perspectives and tools for understanding the changes which are currently affecting print culture.

Book history, for example, has entered a new phase in which national histories are giving way to a more fully international approach – a development to which the AEPM, as a European organisation should be particularly attentive. For an international approach allows us to better apprehend the many, often complex, ways in which texts, images and the ways in which they are produced, distributed and consumed have affected all aspects of human activity over the centuries, crossing and re-crossing physical, political and cultural boundaries.

Today’s heritage landscape is also changing. And with it the frontiers between, and the nature of, the missions pursued by the various actors involved in the conservation and transmission of printing and graphic heritage, whether material or immaterial. As a result, new connections are developing between printing history and the more established – but equally fast changing – worlds of museums, libraries and archives: organisations whose missions increasingly overlap in terms of the definition and management of object- and archive-based collections, and of the spread of cross-domain collaborations between cultural and heritage sectors. The exhibition and mediation of printed artefacts has become a major preoccupation over the last twenty years for a wide range of cultural organisations such as heritage libraries, archives, special university and research collections and, of course, printing museums.

As new perspectives open up for the conservation and mediation of print culture, new challenges have to be faced by printing museums. As the curators, historians and guardians of printing heritage, we here today have to continually re-evaluate the nature, significance and perimeter of our collections; we have to continually re-evaluate the ways in which we interpret them in order to constantly re-focus our missions and adopt appropriate and effective strategies to meet the needs of our visitors and ensure the future development and transmission of our collections.

Which brings me to the theme of our meeting: lithography – a subject which, again, could not be more timely. For it has to be said a the outset that lithography has been somewhat overlooked by the world of printing museums and, more generally, by printing history. In spite of the major role which it has played over the last two centuries it has, in many ways, remained the poor relation of printing museums. The reasons for this are various. But among them we can certainly mention a general feeling that lithography is a more complex process than letterpress which, for many museum visitors, is intuitively easier to understand, and for those in charge of museums simpler to explain and demonstrate. Lithography and its modern derivatives raise specific questions in terms of museography and mediation. Questions which have to be dealt with by printing museums if they are to offer their visitors an understanding of the 20th century, and of the myriad contemporary industrial applications of the process.

Hence the pertinence of the title of the conference: From stone to chip!

I am sure that our joint AEPM/IADM meeting will be a valuable contribution to this ongoing task, by creating new opportunities to discuss and compare our aims, our methods and our activities, to discuss the conditions under which we pursue them, and to develop new ways to meet the global challenges which printing museums now have to face.

I am also sure that we are going to have a great time in the process!