Johanna Drucker: New Book Explores Links Between Letters’ Past and Future

The Breslauer Professor of Bibliographical Studies is an expert on the history of graphic design, typography, and digital humanities.

When she is not expanding the scholarship on the history of graphic design, typography, experimental poetry, fine art, or digital humanities, Johanna Drucker is a book artist, with limited edition works in special collections and libraries worldwide. That being said, no one else could have written a book as far-reaching as her latest, “What Is?: Nine Epistemological Essays” (University of Houston-Victoria Cuneiform Press, 2013).

Drucker, who is the inaugural Breslauer Professor of Bibliographical Studies in UCLA’s Department of Information Studies, examines the historical trajectory from letters and words to documents and books, including their future as digital resources in “What Is?” Taking into account the current understanding of “materiality,” she illustrates how information visualization is taken to the next level with the ever-expanding field of digital humanities.

Interviewed recently by the Chronicle of Higher Education on the insertion of technology into a historically low-tech discipline like the humanities, Drucker says that pursuing the study of digital humanities gives students tech skills that complement their more esoteric (read, “less obviously marketable”) interests like literature and history.

Drucker’s most recent titles include “Digital_Humanities, (With J. Schnapp, T. Presner, P. Lunenfeld, and A. Burdick. Cambridge:MIT Press, 2012); “SpecLab: Digital Aesthetics and Speculative Computing” (Chicago, 2009); and “Graphic Design History: A Critical Guide” (With Emily McVarish, Pearson, 2008, 2nd edition late 2012). She recently wrote a critique of current approaches to scholarly publishing in the digital humanities for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Professor Drucker is currently working on a project titled, “History of the Book” in partnership with the online Museum of Writing, which is overseen by the School of Advanced Study at the Institute of English Studies at the University of London. Drucker and her colleagues are using UCLA’s Special Collections to build a resource for pedagogy on creating interpretive frameworks for rare, esoteric, or unusual materials. She also teaches a class on “History of the Book,” where students will help to create an online exhibit using the tools of a medieval scribe, as recreated by Alan Cole, the founder of the Museum of Writing.

Drucker is continuing her work on a database memoire titled, “ALL,” of her unpublished books. “Druckworks: 40 Years of Books and Projects by Johanna Drucker,” a traveling retrospective, will be on view next month at the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, N.Y.