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Public Lettering: Script, Power, and Culture
by Armando Petrucci
translated by Linda Lappin
University of Chicago Press, 1993
Cloth: 978-0-226-66386-9
Library of Congress Classification P211.3.I8P4813 1993
Dewey Decimal Classification 302.22440945

Public lettering in all its forms—official inscriptions on
buildings, commercial graphics, signs, epitaphs on tombstones,
graffiti—is a fixture of urban life. In Public
Lettering, Armando Petrucci reconstructs the history of
public writing in the West and traces its social functions
from the eleventh century through the modern period.

Taking the city of Rome as a case study, Petrucci begins
with a consideration of the first civic inscriptions after
ancient times. Substantial chapters on the uses of public
writing in the industrial revolution and the early twentieth
century prepare the way for his provocative discussions of
public lettering in the the contexts of fascism, post-war
radicalism, and the student revolutions of 1968 and 1977.

Throughout, Petrucci is concerned with the relations
between the functions and styles of letters and the places
where they appear. Writing, he argues, is one of the
instruments of public power; display lettering is often the
image and mirror of power itself, making the social use of
written forms a type of conquest. Because of Rome's role as
a “World-City,” Petrucci's interdisciplinary study has
wide-ranging implications for our understanding of the social
function of graphic design.

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