Print Culture and the Modern World Notes
- We find evidence of print everywhere around us – in books, journals, newspapers, prints of famous paintings, and also in everyday things like theatre programmes, official circulars, calendars, diaries, advertisements, and cinema posters on street corners.
- We read printed literature, see printed images, follow the news through newspapers, and track public debates that appear in print.
- We take this world of print for granted and often forget that there was a time before print. We may not realise that print itself has a history that has shaped our contemporary world.
- The beginning of print in East Asia to its expansion in Europe and in India.
1. The First Printed Books
- Print technology was developed in China, Japan, and Korea. This was a system of hand printing. From AD 594 onwards, books in China were printed by rubbing paper against woodblocks’ inked surfaces. Superbly skilled craftsmen could duplicate the beauty of calligraphy.
- The imperial state of China was a producer of printed material for a long time. China’s huge bureaucratic system recruited its personnel through civil service examinations. From the sixteenth century, the number of examination candidates went up and that increased the volume of print.
- In the seventeenth century, the uses of print diversified after the start of urban culture in China. The print was used just by not only scholar-officials but also by Merchants. The new readership preferred fictional narratives, poetry, autobiographies, anthologies of literary masterpieces, and romantic plays. Rich women began to read, and many women began publishing their poetry and plays. Wives of scholar-officials published their works and courtesans wrote about their lives.
- This new reading culture was accompanied by new technology. Western printing techniques and mechanical presses were imported in the late nineteenth century as Western powers established their outposts in China. Shanghai became the hub of the new print culture, catering to Western-style schools. Hand printing was shifted to mechanical printing.
1.1 Print in Japan
- Buddhist missionaries from China introduced hand-printing technology to Japan around AD 768-770. The oldest Japanese book Buddhist Diamond Sutra contains printed six sheets of text and woodcut illustrations by AD 868. Pictures were printed on textiles, playing cards, and paper money. In medieval Japan, poets and prose writers regularly publish books at a cheap rate.
- In the late eighteenth century, in the flourishing urban circles at Edo (later to be known as Tokyo), illustrated collections of paintings depicted an elegant urban culture, involving artists, courtesans, and teahouse gatherings. Libraries and bookstores were packed with hand-printed materials such as books on women, musical instruments, calculations, tea ceremonies, flower arrangements, proper etiquette, cooking, and famous places.
2. Print Comes to Europe
- For centuries, silk and spices from China flowed into Europe through the silk route. In the eleventh century, Chinese paper reached Europe via the same route. Paper made possible the production of manuscripts, carefully written by scribes.
- In 1295, Marco Polo, a great explorer, returned to Italy after many years of exploration in China. Marco Polo brought woodblock printing knowledge back from China. Now Italians began producing books with woodblocks, and soon the technology spread to other parts of Europe.
- Handwritten manuscripts were expensive vellum and luxurious. It was meant for aristocratic circles and rich monastic libraries. Merchants and students in the university towns bought cheaper printed copies.
- As the demand for books increased, booksellers all over Europe began exporting books to many different countries and organized book fairs at different places. There was a huge demand for handwritten manuscripts.
- But the production of handwritten manuscripts could not satisfy the ever-increasing demand for books. Copying was an expensive, laborious, and time-consuming business. Manuscripts were fragile, awkward to handle, and could not be carried around or read easily. Their circulation remained limited.
- The woodblock printing became more popular because of its efficiency and cheap cost. By the early fifteenth century, woodblocks were being widely used in Europe to print textiles, playing cards, and religious pictures with simple, brief texts.
- A new print technology was invented due to the need for quicker and cheaper reproduction of text. The breakthrough occurred at Strasbourg, Germany, where Johann Gutenberg developed the first-known printing press in the 1430s.
2.1 Gutenberg and the Printing Press
- Gutenberg was the son of a merchant who had seen wine and olive press since childhood and also grew up on a large agricultural estate. He learned the art of polishing stones and became a master of a goldsmith, and also get the expertise to create lead moulds used for making trinkets. Gutenberg use his knowledge to adapt existing technology to design his innovation.
- The olive press provided the model for the printing press, and moulds were used for casting the metal types for the letters of the alphabet. By 1448, Gutenberg perfected the system. The first book he printed was the Bible which contain about 180 copies and took three years to produce them. By the standards of the time this was fast production.
- In fact, printed books at first closely resembled written manuscripts in appearance and layout. The metal letters imitated the ornamental handwritten styles. Borders were illuminated by hand with foliage and other patterns, and illustrations were painted.
- In the books printed for the rich, blank spaces were left for personalized designs and to add illustrations.
- During 1450 and 1550, printing presses were established in different countries of Europe. German printers travelled to other countries seeking work and helping to start new presses.
- The book production boomed with an increase in printing presses. The second half of the fifteenth century saw 20 million copies of printed books flooding the markets in Europe. The number went up in the sixteenth century to about 200 million copies.
- This shift from hand printing to mechanical printing led to the print revolution.
3. The Print Revolution and Its Impact
- The print revolution was a new way of producing books and development. It transformed the lives of people, changing their relationship to information and knowledge, and with institutions and authorities. It influenced popular perceptions and opened up new ways of looking at things.
3.1 A New Reading Public
- Printing press reduced the cost of books and emerged new reading public. The printing press helped to produce multiple copies, books and reduce the cost of labour and save time. Books were flooded and readership growing in the market.
- Access to books created a new culture of reading which was restricted to the elites earlier. Common people lived in a world of oral culture where they heard sacred texts, recited ballads, and narrated folk tales. Before the age of print, books were expensive and production was insufficient.
- After the printing press, books could reach out to wider sections of people. If earlier there was a hearing public, now a reading public came into being.
- Till the 20th century, the literacy rate was low in Europe so books could be read only by the literate people. The publishers persuade the common people to welcome the printed book. To do this, printers began publishing popular ballads and folk tales, and such books would be profusely illustrated with pictures. These were then sung and recited at gatherings in villages and taverns in towns.
- Thus Oral culture entered in print and printed material was orally transmitted. The line that separated the oral and reading cultures became blurred. And the hearing public and reading public became intermingled.
3.2 Religious Debates and the Fear of Print
- Print created a wide circulation of ideas and a new world of debate and discussion. Those people who disagree with establishment authorities could persuade people to think differently and move them to action through printed messages.
- The easier access of the printed word and the wider circulation of books could have on people’s minds. If there was no control over printing and reading then rebellious and irreligious thoughts might spread. If that happened the authority of ‘valuable’ literature would be destroyed.
- Expressed by religious authorities and monarchs, as well as many writers and artists, this anxiety was the basis of widespread criticism of the new printed literature and began to circulate.
- The implication was a sphere of religion in the life of modern Europe. In 1517, the religious reformer Martin Luther wrote Ninety-Five Theses criticising the practices and rituals of the Roman Catholic Church. A printed copy of this book was posted on a church door in Wittenberg which challenged the Church to debate his ideas.
- After that Luther’s writings were reproduced in vast numbers and read widely. This lead to a division within the Church and to start the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s translation of the New Testament sold 5,000 copies within a few weeks and a second edition appeared within three months. Luther said, ‘Printing is the ultimate gift of God and the greatest one.’
- Several scholars think that print brought about a new intellectual atmosphere and helped spread the new ideas that led to the Reformation.
3.3 Print and Dissent
- Print and popular religious literature allowed distinctive individual interpretations of faith even among little-educated working people. In the sixteenth century, an Italy miller Menocchio began to read books that were available in his locality. He reinterpreted the message of the Bible and formulated a view of God and Creation that enraged the Roman Catholic Church.
- The Roman Church began its inquisition to repress heretical ideas, Menocchio was hauled up twice and ultimately executed. The Roman Church troubled by such effects of popular readings and questionings of faith, imposed severe controls over publishers and booksellers and began to maintain an Index of Prohibited Books from 1558.
4. The Reading Mania
- During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries literacy rates increased in Europe because Churches set up schools in villages. By the end of the eighteenth century, in some parts of Europe, literacy rates were as high as 60 to 80 percent. The growing demand for books led to reading mania and increased production.
- New forms of popular literature appeared in print, targeting new audiences. Booksellers employed pedlars who roamed around villages, carrying little books for sale. But other forms of reading matter for entertainment began to reach ordinary readers.
- In England, penny chapbooks were carried by petty pedlars known as chapmen, and sold for a penny, so that even the poor could buy them.
- In France, the ‘Biliotheque Bleue’, were low-priced small books printed on poor-quality paper, and bound in cheap blue covers.
- The romances were printed on four to six pages and the more substantial ‘histories’.
- The periodical press developed, combining current affairs with entertainment. Newspapers and journals carried information on wars, trade, and developments in other places.
- Similarly, the ideas of scientists and philosophers now became more accessible to the common people.
- Ancient and medieval scientific texts, maps, and scientific diagrams were widely printed. When scientists like Isaac Newton began to publish their discoveries and influence scientifically-minded readers.
- The writings of thinkers such as Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Jean Jacques Rousseau were widely printed and read. Their ideas about science, reason, and rationality found their way into popular literature.
4.1 ‘Tremble, therefore, tyrants of the world!’
- By the mid-eighteenth century, books were a medium for spreading progress and enlightenment. Many believed that books could change the world.
- In the 18th century, Louise-Sebastien Mercier, a France novelist declared: ‘The printing press is the most powerful engine of progress and public opinion is the force that will sweep despotism away.’
- In many of Mercier’s novels, the heroes are transformed by acts of reading. They devour books led to enlightenment in the process.
- Mercier proclaimed: ‘Tremble, therefore, tyrants of the world! Tremble before the virtual writer!’
4.2 Print Culture and the French Revolution
- Many historians have argued that print culture created the conditions within which French Revolution occurred. Three types of arguments have been usually put forward.
- First: print popularised the ideas of the Enlightenment thinkers who provided a critical commentary on tradition, superstition, and despotism. They argued for the rule of reason and demanded rational judgment. They attacked the sacred authority of the Church and the despotic power of the state. The writings of Voltaire and Rousseau were read widely; and those who read these books saw the world through new eyes, eyes that were questioning, critical and rational.
- Second: print created a new culture of dialogue and debate. All values, norms, and institutions were re-evaluated and discussed by a public that had become aware of the power of reason and recognised the need to question existing ideas and beliefs. Within this public culture, new ideas of social revolution started.
- Third: by the 1780s there was an outpouring of literature that mocked the royalty and criticised their morality. In the process, it raised questions about the existing social order. Cartoons and caricatures typically suggested that the monarchy remained absorbed only in sensual pleasures while the common people suffered immense hardships. This literature circulated underground and led to the growth of hostile sentiments against the monarchy.
5. The Nineteenth Century
The nineteenth century saw vast leaps in mass literacy in Europe, bringing in large numbers of new readers among children, women, and workers.
5.1 Children, Women, and Workers
- In the 19th century, primary education became compulsory for children and became a category of readers. Production of school textbooks became critical for the publishing industry.
- In 1812, A children’s press was established in France to focus on children’s literature. This press published new works as well as old fairy tales and folk tales.
- The Grimm Brothers in Germany collected traditional folk tales from peasants and edited the stories to publish in a collection in 1812. Anything that was considered unsuitable for children was not included in the published version. Rural folk tales thus acquired a new form and changed them.
- Women became important readers and writers in Penny magazines which are for women to manuals teaching behaviour and housekeeping. When novels began to be written in the nineteenth century, women were seen as important readers. Some of the best-known novelists were women: Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and George Eliot. Their writings define a new type of woman: a person with a will, strength, determination, and the power to think.
- Lending libraries had been in existence from the seventeenth century onwards. In the nineteenth century, lending libraries in England became important for educating white-collar workers, artisans, and lower-middle-class people. Sometimes, working-class educated people wrote for themselves.
- After the working day was gradually shortened in the mid-nineteenth century, workers had some time for self-improvement and self-expression. They wrote political tracts and autobiographies in large numbers.
5.2 Further Innovations
- By the late eighteenth century, the press was made out of metal, and in the nineteenth century, printing technology was innovated.
- By the mid-nineteenth century, Richard M. Hoe of New York had perfected the power-driven cylindrical press capable of printing 8,000 sheets per hour, especially printing newspapers.
- In the late nineteenth century, the offset press was developed to print up to six colours at a time. From the turn of the twentieth century, electrically operated presses accelerated printing operations.
- A series of other developments were Methods of feeding paper improved, the quality of plates became better, and introduced automatic paper reels and photoelectric controls of the colours.
- Printers and publishers continuously developed new strategies to sell their products:
- Nineteenth-century serialised important novels in periodicals.
- In the 1920s in England, popular works were sold in cheap series, called the Shilling Series.
- Twentieth-century innovation is the dust cover or the book jacket.
- In the 1930s, publishers feared a decline in book purchases during Great Depression so they brought out cheap paperback editions for sustainable buying.
6. India and the World of Print
6.1 Manuscripts Before the Age of Print
- India had a very rich and old tradition of handwritten manuscripts in Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, and vernacular languages. Manuscripts were copied on palm leaves or on handmade paper. Pages were sometimes beautifully illustrated.
- They would be either pressed between wooden covers or sewn together to ensure preservation. In the late 19th century, Manuscript production continued after the introduction of print.
- Manuscripts were expensive and fragile. So They had to be handled carefully, and the script was written in different styles so it’s difficult to read.
- Even though pre-colonial Bengal had developed an extensive network of village primary schools. Students only learned to write not to read. Teachers dictated portions of texts from memory and students wrote them down. Many thus became literate without ever actually reading any kind of text.
6.2 Print Comes to India
- The printing press first came to Goa with Portuguese missionaries in the mid-sixteenth century. Jesuit priests learned Konkani and printed several tracts. By 1674, about 50 books had been printed in the Konkani and in Kanara languages.
- Catholic priests printed the first Tamil book in 1579 at Cochin, and in 1713 the first Malayalam book was printed by them. By 1710, Dutch Protestant missionaries had printed 32 Tamil texts, many of them translations of older works.
- The English language press did not grow in India till quite late even though the English East India Company began to import presses from the late seventeenth century.
- From 1780, James Augustus Hickey began a private English enterprise in India by editing the Bengal Gazette, a magazine that described itself as ‘a commercial paper open to all, but influenced by none’.
- Hickey published a lot of advertisements related to the import, sale of slaves and a lot of gossip about the Company’s senior officials in India.
- Governor-General Warren Hastings persecuted Hickey and encouraged the publication of officially sanctioned newspapers to counter the damaged image of the colonial government.
- By the close of the eighteenth century, a number of newspapers and journals appeared in print. There were Indians who began to publish Indian newspapers.
- The first newspaper was the weekly Bengal Gazette published by Gangadhar Bhattacharya, who was close to Rammohun Roy.
7. Religious Reform and Public Debates
- From the early nineteenth century, there were intense debates around religious issues. Different groups confronted the changes happening within colonial society in different ways and offered a variety of new interpretations of the beliefs of different religions.
- These debates were carried out in public and in print. Prints played an important role to spread new ideas and shaping the nature of the debate. A wider public could now participate in these public discussions and express their views. New ideas emerged through these clashes of opinions.
- Controversies arose between social religious reformers and the Hindu orthodoxy over matters like widow immolation, monotheism, Brahmanical priesthood, and idolatry.
- In Bengal, the debate led to proliferating tracts and newspapers circulating arguments to reach ordinary people.
- Rammohun Roy published the Sambad Kaumudi in 1821 and the Hindu orthodoxy commissioned the Samachar Chandrika to oppose his opinions. In 1822, two Persian newspapers were published, Jam-i-Jahan Nama and Shamsul Akhbar. In the same year, a Gujarati newspaper, the Bombay Samachar, made its appearance.
- In north India, the ulama feared the conversion of Muslim personal laws and the collapse of Muslim dynasties. They used cheap lithographic presses, published Persian and Urdu translations of holy scriptures, and printed religious newspapers and tracts to counter this.
- The Deoband Seminary published thousands upon thousands of fatwas telling Muslim readers to conduct themselves in everyday lives and explaining the meanings of Islamic doctrines in 1867.
- In the 19th century, Urdu print helped them conduct Muslim sects and seminaries with different interpretations of faith in public.
- Among Hindus, print encouraged the reading of religious texts, especially in the vernacular languages. The first printed edition of the Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas, a sixteenth-century text, came out from Calcutta in 1810.
- From the 1880s, the Naval Kishore Press in Lucknow and the Shri Venkateshwar Press in Bombay published numerous religious texts in vernaculars.
- Religious texts reached a very wide circle of people to encourage discussions, debates, and controversies within and among different religions. Print did not only stimulate the publication of conflicting opinions amongst communities, but it also connected communities and people in different parts of India.
- Newspapers conveyed news from one place to another, creating pan-Indian identities.
8. New Forms of Publication
- Printing created an appetite for new kinds of writing where people wanted to see their own lives, experiences, emotions, and relationships reflected in reading.
- The novel literary firm in Europe acquired distinctively Indian forms and styles. It opened up new worlds of experience and gave a vivid sense of the diversity of the human lives of readers.
- Other new literary forms that entered the world of reading were lyrics, short stories, and essays about social and political matters.
- By the end of the nineteenth century, a new visual culture was taking shape by increasing the number of printing presses and reproducing visual images in multiple copies.
- Painters like Raja Ravi Varma produced images for mass circulation. Poor wood engravers who made woodblocks set up shop near the letterpresses, and were employed by print shops.
- Cheap prints and calendars, easily available in the bazaar, could be bought even by the poor to decorate the walls of their homes or places of work.
- These prints began shaping popular ideas about modernity and tradition, religion and politics, and society and culture.
- By the 1870s, caricatures and cartoons were being published in journals and newspapers, commenting on social and political issues. Some caricatures ridiculed the educated Indians’ fascination with Western tastes and clothes.
8.1 Women and Print
- Women’s reading increased enormously in middle-class homes by writing about their lives and feelings.
- Liberal husbands and fathers began educating their womenfolk at home and sent for home-based schooling them to school in the cities and towns after the mid-nineteenth century.
- Conservative Hindus believed that a literate girl would be widowed and Muslims feared that educated women would be corrupted by reading Urdu romances.
- In a conservative Muslim family girl in north India secretly learned to read and write in Urdu. Her family wanted her to read only the Arabic Quran.
- In East Bengal, in the early nineteenth century, Rashsundari Debi, a young married girl in a very orthodox household learned to read in the secrecy of her kitchen. She wrote her autobiography Amar Jiban which was published in 1876. It was the first full-length autobiography published in the Bengali language.
- From the 1860s, a few Bengali women like Kailashbashini Debi wrote books highlighting the experiences of women about how women were imprisoned at home, kept in ignorance, forced to do hard domestic labour, and treated unjustly by the very people they served.
- In the 1880s, in present-day Maharashtra, Tarabai Shinde and Pandita Ramabai wrote with passionate anger about the miserable lives of upper-caste Hindu women, especially widows.
- A woman in a Tamil novel expressed what reading meant to women who were so greatly confined by social regulations: ‘For various reasons, my world is small … More than half my life’s happiness has come from books …’
- While Urdu, Tamil, Bengali, and Marathi print culture had developed early, Hindi printing began seriously only in the 1870s.
- In the early twentieth century, journals were written and edited by women. They discussed issues like women’s education, widowhood, widow remarriage, and the national movement. Some of them offered household and fashion lessons to women and brought entertainment through short stories and serialised novels.
- In Punjab, similar folk literature was widely printed from the early twentieth century. Ram Chaddha published the fast-selling Istri Dharm Vichar to teach women how to be obedient wives.
- The Khalsa Tract Society published cheap booklets with a similar message. Many of these were in the form of dialogues about the qualities of a good woman.
- In Bengal, an entire area in central Calcutta the Battala was devoted to the printing of popular books where cheap editions of religious tracts and scriptures and literature was considered obscene and scandalous.
- By the late nineteenth century, a lot of these books were being profusely illustrated with woodcuts and coloured lithographs. Pedlars took the Battala publications to homes, enabling women to read them in their leisure time.
8.2 Print and the Poor People
- In the nineteenth century, in Madras towns cheap books were sold at crossroads, allowing poor people to buy them.
- Public libraries were set up in the early twentieth century and expanded access to books. These libraries were located mostly in cities and towns, and at times in prosperous villages.
- For rich local patrons, setting up a library was a way of acquiring prestige.
- From the late nineteenth century, issues of caste discrimination began to be written in many printed tracts and essays.
- Jyotiba Phule, the Maratha pioneer of ‘low caste’ protest movements, wrote about the injustices of the caste system in his Gulamgiri (1871).
- In the twentieth century, B.R. Ambedkar in Maharashtra and E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker in Madras, better known as Periyar, wrote powerfully on caste which was read by people all over India.
- Kashibaba, a Kanpur millworker, wrote and published Chhote Aur Bade Ka Sawal in 1938 to show the links between caste and class exploitation.
- The poems of another Kanpur millworker, who wrote under the name of Sudarshan Chakr between 1935 and 1955, were brought together and published in a collection called Sacchi Kavitayan.
- By the 1930s, Bangalore cotton millworkers set up libraries to educate themselves, following the example of Bombay workers.
9 Print and Censorship
- Before 1798, the colonial state under the East India Company was not focused on censorship. Strangely, its early measures to control printed matter were directed against Englishmen in India who were critical of Company misrule and worried that criticisms might be used by its critics in England to attack its trade monopoly in India.
- By the 1820s, the Calcutta Supreme Court passed regulations to control press freedom and the Company began encouraging the publication of newspapers that celebrate British rule.
- In 1835, Governor-General Bentinck faced urgent petitions to revise press laws by editors of English and vernacular newspapers.
- Thomas Macaulay, a liberal colonial official formulated new rules that restored the earlier freedoms.
- After the revolt of 1857, Enraged Englishmen demanded a clamp down on the ‘native’ press. As vernacular newspapers became assertively nationalist, the colonial government began debating measures of stringent control.
- In 1878, the Vernacular Press Act was passed, modelled on the Irish Press Laws. It provided the government with extensive rights to censor reports and editorials in the vernacular press.
- From now on the government kept regular track of the vernacular newspapers published in different provinces. When a report was judged as seditious, the newspaper was get warned. If the warning was ignored, the press was liable to be seized and the printing machinery confiscated.
- Despite repressive measures, nationalist newspapers grew in numbers in all parts of India. They reported on colonial misrule and encouraged nationalist activities.
- When Punjab revolutionaries were deported in 1907, Balgangadhar Tilak wrote with great sympathy about them in his Kesari. This led to his imprisonment in 1908, provoking in turn widespread protests all over India.
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