Lasting impression: Popular printing class at The Bancroft Library celebrates 40 years of hands-on learning

December 8, 2023

Student holds onto the lever of an old print press while other students watch. All students are wearing aprons and wearing face masks.

How did a class about the history of hand-printed books get so popular?

Because it leaves an impression.

Math student David Awakim discovered the elective on a Reddit thread about can’t-miss classes at UC Berkeley. He was drawn to the idea of working with his hands, and learning how to use a vintage printing press to create something tangible — a welcome change from the abstractions of his upper-level math classes. 

“It’s so fun to actually translate something that we do to a physical change on a paper,” he said. “Seeing, like, I put in this work, I get this result out of it. You know, seeing a stack of full proofs develop. Seeing the actual ink fresh on the page. I think all of that is really cool.”

“The Hand-Printed Book in Its Historical Context,” held in The Bancroft Library’s press room, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Since 1983, the course has given students the opportunity to experience the history of books, from design to printing to publishing. The class culminates in the students printing and hand-binding 50 copies of an original book, one of which becomes part of Bancroft’s permanent collection.

Inge Bruggeman, a lecturer in the Undergraduate Interdisciplinary Studies teaching program, has taught the class for the past four semesters. She said the course’s staying power comes from the appeal of applied learning. For many students, who are accustomed to simply clicking “print” on a screen, there is a special thrill in pulling the lever on an 1856 Albion hand press.

“(Classes such as these) can be some of the most satisfying and impactful,” Bruggeman said. “This style of learning is the kind that really sticks with students long term.”

Berkeley Library