The world of work is tightly entwined with the world of things. Dr Jesse Adams Stein’s historical research into the recent history of the Australian printing industry illuminates the fundamental connections between design, material culture and work. This research focused on the 1960s to the 1980s, when the traditional printing crafts of hot metal typesetting and letterpress were finally made obsolete with the introduction of computerised technologies. Drawing from oral histories, photographic collections and government archives, this history provides an evocative rendering of design culture by exploring an intriguing case: a doggedly traditional Government Printing Office in Australia. It explores the struggles experienced by printers as they engaged in technological retraining, shortly before facing factory closure.
This project resulted in a book published by Manchester University Press, Hot Metal: Material Culture and Tangible Labour (2016), a PhD thesis (Precarious Printers, 2014) and four journal articles. Emeritus Professor Diane Kirkby has written that Hot Metal “is a critical reflection on the mistakes of economic rationalism, and the losses from deindustrialisation, without becoming only a story of loss with nostalgia for a golden era. Its findings are salutary.” Design historian David Brody has said, “This inventive book about new approaches to material culture and labour history is a remarkable intervention in the field of design history. It will, I am confident, incite future scholars to investigate the people, spaces and objects that define and complicate the world of work.”