It’s no secret that the Gulf Coast region is rich with history, but did you know that New Orleans was the South’s original print hub? Or that in 1876, New Orleans was home to the first female proprietor of a major American newspaper? Joseph Makkos, AIGA New Orleans’ Special Projects Asset and creator of the New Orleans Print History Map, with the technical assistance of Keir DuBois, of AIGA Santa Barbara, has worked tirelessly to assemble a history of print in New Orleans. I spoke with him earlier this week to find out more about the project.
Glynnis Ritchie: What is the Print History Map?
Joseph Makkos: The Print History Map is an alternative history of printers and printing presses in Downtown New Orleans. Hidden behind the storefronts and buildings of the city today are these rich histories that are part of all sorts of industry. The printers and publishers of the city made the history—they produced the physical artifacts and records of history—but they were so busy making history that their own story is often forgotten. That’s what the Print History Map is—a narrative of the producers of material culture: printers, printing companies, publishers, small presses, and publications. It’s not just a newspaper or industrial printing history tour. It’s a little bit of everything, including counter culture presses who produced alternative weeklies and underground magazines in the 1960s as part of the Free Press Movement.
GR: How was the idea for the map conceived?
JM: I serve as the content manager for the Tulane School of Architecture’s Preservation Timeline Project. I got involved in that project last year, which produced a timeline from the nineteenth century to current day that traces the architectural preservation of New Orleans. While working on this project, I had the idea that it’d be interesting to present a similar piece about printers, presses, newspapers, and publications of the downtown area of New Orleans. With a bunch of designers and printers in town, I thought there’d be interest in this alternative history of shops that are no longer there. I thought, “Wow, if this print shop was in a city for 90 years, how many millions of pages did they print?” I was fascinated with learning about the intersection of the makers and the culture of the printed word.
GR: What makes the Print History Map unique?
JM: One thread that stands out through the tour is the number of female-owned businesses and how that contributed to the printing history in the city. For example, between 1876 and 1896, the first female proprietor of a major newspaper was here in New Orleans: Eliza Jane Nicholson. She was the literary editor of The Daily Picayune, which she took over in 1876 and turned it into the largest newspaper in the South. In her lifetime, The Daily Picayune had distribution to South and Central America. As far as I know, there isn’t a map of this type out there and with all the technology we have at our fingertips, why not re-present alternative histories in interactive ways?!
GR: What do you see for the Print History Map in the future?
JM: I could see this project expanding to include a comprehensive catalog of different presses and creators of material culture. I would ultimately like to see it evolve to include a greater area of the city. Imagine if we were able to plot every printing press—every single print shop in the history of the city. I could also see the map becoming an interactive media piece, or an exhibit in a museum that includes a print or physical object from each place on the map.
As of today, the Print History Map and stories of print shops in the city can be uncovered by anyone with time to amble through the streets of the city or with access to the web. Take your own tour through the city and the history of the people who printed history.