Keith Murphy

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

California, Irvine, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 9870

Approve Date

May 1, 2019

Project Title

Murphy, Keith (California, Irvine, U. of) "Typeworlds: Explorations in the Care of Graphic Language"

KEITH MURPHY, University of California, Irvine, California, was awarded a grant in March 2019 to aid research on “Typeworlds: Explorations in the Care of Graphic Language.” This project is an ethnographic exploration of the professionals and communities dedicated to making sure that printed language ‘works’ for ordinary people — type designers, typographers, printers, computer programmers, and many others. ‘Works’ can mean several different things. Sometimes it’s a technological issue. As fonts moved from metal, ink and paper to pixels and screens, people have needed to ensure that new machines handle writing in ways that make writing usable. Sometimes it’s a cognitive issue. Much of how typography has been constructed professionally is based on the psychological underpinnings of legibility and readability — many of which are, from an anthropological point of view, substantially wrong. And ‘works’ is increasingly becoming a social and political issue. Whose typefaces are used and celebrated? Whose writing systems get attention from tech companies? Can something as diminutive as a glyph even play a part in movements for social justice? These are just some of the questions currently under debate in the communities that create, manage, and care for printed writing. It’s almost cliche to state that the printing press transformed human society. What this project reveals is that the invention(s) of printing weren’t necessarily historical revolutions, but instead important moments in a long, continuous, and collaborative effort to maintain writing itself as a critical public infrastructure.