Slow and steady... (July 25, 2023)
Once again, I've been fortunate enough to have a summer intern, and I should have one for the fall as well. Georgia Southern history students have added so much to this project. Lately, we're concentrating on the printers, and that has been really fruitful. I still haven't fully analyzed all the work that Mady Bullard did last academic year, so I set Adriana Smith in a slightly different direction this summer, catching up with new printers I'd identified. She did yeoman's work, much of the time finding little to nothing, but we now have a biography of the one woman printer we've found who worked in Burgos. She's a fascinating person: Isabel de Basilea, the daughter, wife (twice!), and mother of printers, who not only worked with the men in her life, but also with her daughter, Lucrecia, who married the printer Matias Gast.
Not surprisingly, Adriana felt somewhat disappointed in not finding more concrete information on the 300+ names I gave her. I reminded her that not finding anything is important too. Every tidbit that my students and I have found comes from multiple sources, and has required a good deal of digging. If, after all that, we still don't have a birth name or date of birth, we know we've tried everything we can think of, and looked under as many rocks as we could find. These women deserve nothing less than that, and if they are truly lost, well, we've still done well by them. In the meantime, though, we've found a lot more information than some others have, and we're collecting it in one place, eventually making it easily accessible. It will take a lot of time, in part because so much of the history of printing is about the men, not the women who helped them, taught them, kept their books, etc. Women have always been part of the workforce.
We live in an age in which people question both how history is told and what kind of history is (and can be) told. It's important to keep in mind that no one loses when we talk about the people with less clout or name recognition; indeed, we all gain when we know more about our forebears. History, as I always tell my students, isn't about places or dates. It's about people rather like us, and humans are hard-wired to find ourselves interesting--and to tell stories about ourselves. How we tell those stories is important: who are we centering? who are we leaving out, deliberately or by a sin of omission? who are we letting make decisions about what is included? These are timeless questions. The answers, I maintain, must be timeless too: the history of a small segment of the population (an economic elite, an ethnic minority, a religious power structure, etc.) is a whole lot less interesting than the interactions of a broad spread of groups with each other. History which confirms our preconceived notions is just propaganda.