Teaching Labs • Fellowships • Special Events

A program for hands-on instruction in the history of printing texts and images

DSC_5356_crop_web_2The University of Virginia is one of the most important sites in the world for studying the history of printing. UVA’s affiliated institute, Rare Book School, and its Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library have long been destinations for rare book curators and librarians studying the history of the book—but UVA’s reputation in this area is still primarily known only to specialists.

Presswork, a new, public-facing program, seeks to bridge that divide, by connecting UVA’s experts in the history of printing with faculty, students, and members of the broader community. Established in 2018 through a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, Presswork provides custom teaching labs for UVA courses and visiting groups, while training UVA undergraduate and graduate students in the technologies of printing through its RBS-UVA Presswork Fellowship Program. Presswork also hosts events, such as open houses and occasional “Final Fridays,” for the local community. The program is meant to spark new conversations, projects, and research on Grounds and in the local community.

Presswork: A Documentary

The following documentary describes the scope of RBS’s “Presswork” program—charting how the project began with RBS’s commissioning of a wooden rolling press, modeled and designed after diagrams published in Denis Diderot’s famous Encyclopédie (of which UVA owns a unique copy, annotated by Diderot himself). We know of no other university, whether in the U.S. or farther afield, that has two eighteenth-century period presses positioned side by side, allowing faculty, students, and visitors to compare, in a hands-on research setting, the intaglio and letterpress technologies that were necessary for producing the illustrated books that Thomas Jefferson and his contemporaries read. As the documentary illustrates, these presses were essential for interpreting how early modern and Enlightenment-era printers worked, how books and prints were fashioned, and how those processes influenced the culture of learning that fostered the growth of libraries and universities.

How to Get Involved

Schedule a Presswork Printing Lab

Presswork offers customized, hands-on printing labs for UVA classes, local educators, and other groups from the community. A small number of labs are available gratis each semester on a first-come, first-served basis. Most labs run 1.5–2 hours. Sample themes for labs include: “Printing Technologies in Colonial America,” “Nature Printing on the Intaglio Rolling Press,” and “Comparative Technologies for Printing Relief and Engraved Images.”

To inquire about reserving a free printing lab for your class or group, please contact In your email, provide a brief description of the kind of lab or demonstration you wish to schedule, as well as the number of participants you hope to include.

DSC_4892Apply for a RBS-UVA Presswork Fellowship

Undergraduate and graduate students at UVA can apply for the RBS-UVA Presswork Fellowship, which provides training for students to share the history, craft, and technology of historical printing presses with the University community and broader publics. As part of the program, fellows receive specialized training and instruction to learn how to print on replica eighteenth-century printing presses. Presswork Fellows then take on teaching roles themselves, helping to lead printing demonstrations for UVA classes and the general public as teaching assistants. No prior printing experience is required. The program provides UVA students not only insight into historical technological process, but also an opportunity to help design and conduct public-facing projects on Grounds.

See the RBS-UVA Presswork Fellowship page for information on fellowship activities and the application process.

Propose a Special Event

Presswork hosts seasonal open houses, printing demonstrations for UVA alumni, and occasional “Final Friday” events. Suggest a special event by sending a message to

Presswork is a collaborative effort supported by Rare Book School, UVA Libraries, and the Jefferson Trust, an initiative of the UVA Alumni Association.