History of Typography in the West: An Overview from Gutenberg to Adobe

Current Faculty: Paul Shaw


This course will provide a general overview of both the history of typography and of type design in the West—with an emphasis on Latin (roman) type—from the birth of printing with movable type in the mid-15th century through the first decades of digital fonts at the end of the 20th century. It will explore the influence of scribal styles of writing on early typographic forms; the development of the “modern” typographic book in the 16th century and changes and challenges to that format in the 19th and 20th centuries; the impact of technology on the form and use of typefaces since 1800; the shift from the book as the locus of typographic development to posters and ephemera from the 19th century to the present; and the effect of digital type on democratizing the profession.

The class will consist of lectures and class discussions combined with field trips to Bay Area institutions such as the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley, the California Historical Society, and the Gleeson Library at the University of San Francisco to see books, type specimens, posters, and other items relevant to the history of typography. We will be based at the Letterform Archive which will allow us access to its remarkable resources throughout the week.


This course is intended for those with little or no formal instruction in the history of typography.

Course objectives:

1. to provide students with the tools and vocabulary to identify and describe typefaces; 2. to establish a basic understanding of the major stylistic trends, technological changes, and key figures in type design from Gutenberg to the 21st century; and 3. to explain the source of many of the typographic features used in most book designs.

Years Taught: 2014, 2018 (in-person), 2020 (virtual), 2022.