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ERIC Number: EJ933706
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2010-May
Pages: 26
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 29
ISSN: ISSN-0022-2224
How Print Culture Came to Be Indigenous
McKee, Stuart
Visible Language, v44 n2 p161-186 May 2010
Western historians working in the first half of the twentieth century established a scheme for writing design history that continues to influence the global histories of today. The historians Douglas McMurtrie, Lucien Febvre, Henri-Jean Martin and Lawrence Wroth believed that the modern history of visual communication began with the advent and spread of typographic printing in fifteenth-century Europe. Within their historical narratives, printing leaves Europe to reappear in other parts of the world as a benign instrument of cultural conversion. These scholars used their histories to assert the privileges of European expansion, and they viewed indigenous design as any form of communication technology practiced outside of Europe after the export of printing. They clung to the notion that American peoples were destined to develop cultural histories that duplicated the European historical trajectory. In their eyes, the history of print culture belonged to Europe, and their histories today read as attempts to silence the "strangeness" of non-Western cultural difference. In this article, I examine design histories of the Americas from the first three centuries of New World settlement and describe the ways that Western historians have misrepresented indigenous American cultures by suppressing local forms of visual language and communication technology. In opposition to the dominant strand of Western design historiography, I present evidence that local meanings and values migrated with the products that colonial administrators printed overseas for European audiences. I question the degree to which design historians of the Americas have positioned indigenous peoples as subordinate subjects of print culture rather than as agents of cultural difference and productive assimilation. The primary significance of this contribution to this special issue is to contest the worldview of graphic design history as a singular and unified field of representation, and to encourage greater engagement with indigenous design histories in the contemporary movement toward cross-cultural design research and collaboration. (Contains 4 figures.)
Sharon H. Poggenpohl. Available from: Rhode Island School of Design. 2 College Street, Providence, RI 02903. Tel: 401-454-6570; Fax: 401-454-6117; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: North America; South America