Printing for the Modern Age: Commerce, Craft, and Culture in the RR Donnelley Archive

Curated by Kim Coventry, curatorial consultant for the RR Donnelley archives; Maija Anderson, Accessions Manager ; and Dan Meyer, SCRC Associate Director and University Archivist.

"Printing for the Modern Age: Commerce, Craft, and Culture in the RR Donnelley Archive" explores the enormous impact that printing technology and print media have had on modern life. Materials in the exhibition are drawn from the RR Donnelley Archive, the historic corporate archive of R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company, the Chicago-based firm that has become the largest provider of print and print-related products and services in the world.

The cumulative impact of RR Donnelley on modern American life has been remarkable. In nearly every aspect of home or business life, Americans have encountered RR Donnelley-printed products-Sears, Ward's or Penney's retail catalogs, city telephone directories, magazines from TimeLife, and Business Week to Sunset and National Geographic, best-selling books from trade publishers such as Random House and Penguin, sets of Encyclopaedia Britannica or World Book, promotional circulars in the local newspaper and direct-mail advertising, and financial documents and corporate publications.

The company's impressive industrial capacity has been matched by a strong interest in quality craftsmanship based on the expert work of its typographers, printers, and binders and the success of the RR Donnelley apprenticeship training program. 

Presented as a gift to the University of Chicago in 2005, the RR Donnelley Archive is now being made available for research and teaching in the Special Collections Research Center. Its location affirms a long association with members of the Donnelley family, who have been Trustees and generous supporters of the University for more than a century. Richard Robert Donnelley was among the first officers of the University of Chicago Press when it was incorporated in 1892, and R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company subsequently printed many of the books and other publications that established the Press as a leading academic publisher.

The RR Donnelley Archive offers great potential for students and scholars in many fields of study-modern social and cultural history, the history of printing and the graphic arts, the history of advertising and mass consumption, economic and labor history, Chicago urban and community history, and modern cultural studies. The RR Donnelley Archive also illuminates the enduring connection between successive generations of the Donnelley family and the broader Chicago civic and cultural community of which RR Donnelley & Sons Co. has been such an important part.

In the Special Collections Research Center, the unique research resources of the RR Donnelley Archive will be further enhanced by the company's gift in 1979 of volumes from the RR Donnelley Training Department Library.  The Library is grateful to RR Donnelley for ensuring that both the Archive and the Training Department collection will be preserved for scholars, teachers, and students interested in the world of modern printing.

The research and writing for "Printing for the Modern Age" was undertaken by Kim Coventry, who worked with the archives at RR Donnelley as curatorial consultant for fourteen years; Kim brought to the project a detailed understanding of RR Donnelley's corporate history and an extensive knowledge of the collection. Additional research and writing for the exhibition was provided by Maija Anderson, Archives and Manuscripts Accessions Manager in Special Collections. Daniel Meyer, Associate Director in Special Collections, served as editor. Kerri Sancomb, Exhibition Specialist in Special Collections, designed and installed the exhibition with characteristic style.

Exhibit Publications & Documents

Online Exhibit Catalog
Catalogue 36p (sewn and glued)

Exhibit Text

Exhibit Checklist