Researcher Profile

Researcher Profile
One of the primary ways in which the Society supports research in bibliography is to offer an annual series of major fellowships and bursaries of up to £4000, usually awarded to around a dozen researchers to facilitate (amongst other things) their travel to libraries around the world. Awardees include PhD students, independent researchers and academics with institutional affiliations, and projects funded in 2021 included the circulation of mathematical books in early modern Britain, the Protestant book trade in seventeenth-century France and Edith Wharton’s Cold War publishing history.

 

In this profile we hear from one of the 2021 recipients, Dr Vaibhav Singh, who was awarded £2000 to help his work on typographic technologies and the periodical press in British India. We hope that it will give anyone applying for the next round of fellowships and bursaries a fuller sense of the sort of research (and researcher) we support.

 

Vaibhav Singh is an independent typographer, type designer, and researcher. He is the editor of Contextual Alternate, an interdisciplinary journal (as well as an independent research, archiving, and events initiative) exploring the intersection of design, communication, technology, and history (www.contextual-alternate.com). He holds a bachelor’s degree in Architecture (University of Pune) and a master’s in Visual Communication (Industrial Design Centre, IIT Bombay). He was awarded the Felix scholarship in 2010 for an MA in Typeface Design, and again in 2013 for his PhD, both at the University of Reading, where he was also a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow between 2017 and 2021. 

 

My research interests revolve broadly around typographic history, printing, publishing, and textual communication, and in particular, aspects of design and technology for Indian languages and scripts. With a focus on the history of design processes, their broader socio-political contexts, and the impact of technological infrastructures, my research explores the various interactions between makers and users across linguistic boundaries and social groups. My research interests also extend to working practices and their transformation across technological change, transnational professional and commercial networks of print, and the dynamics of international collaboration in the development of design and technology across linguistic boundaries.

 

As a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, I successfully completed a 3-year research project titled ‘Merchants of alphabets: networks of typographic design and technology in Indian language publishing, 1900–1950’. This project aimed for a wide-ranging scholarly assessment of the impact of typographic design and technology on the linguistic diversity of Indian publishing in the decades leading up to the country’s independence. Utilizing artefacts and documentary sources spread across three continents, it examined how creative and commercial networks that enabled the material production of text in India’s multilingual landscape played a critical role in establishing language and script preference, spurring on the definition of regional priorities in printing and publishing. 

 

My postdoctoral work and ongoing research projects situate typographic design and technology for South Asian scripts – a critically under-researched area in publishing and book history – within global networks and intellectual frameworks related to infrastructure, politics, mass communication, and technological innovation. For my independent research projects, I have been awarded fellowships and research grants from the Bibliographical Society, the Printing Historical Society, the Design History Society, the Willison Foundation Charitable Trust, the Smithsonian Institution, and the British Library, among others.

 

Over the course of my postdoctoral research, the Bibliographical Society’s support through conference subventions enabled me to organise a series of in-person events on various themes related to print in Asian contexts. (Details of these events can be found here: www.contextualternate.com/events – event numbers 2, 3, and 4). Currently, with the support of a Bibliographical Society Major Grant of £2000 I am pursuing an independent project on the vital encounter of technology and the vernacular periodical press in British India. The project focuses on the last three decades of the nineteenth century, when transnational engagement with typesetting technologies and typographic experimentation intensified, leading to various subsequent early twentieth-century developments across South Asia. The project investigates how newspapers and periodicals themselves became the crucible for typographic experimentation, modernisation, and mechanisation of the Indian-language press, how the press negotiated its own response to technological change, and what part it played in the larger debate on technological infrastructure in the region. The grant will enable international travel for research and access to archival collections in India.