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Print Culture & Modern World

The First Printed BooksThe earliest print technology was developed in China, Japan and Korea. From 594 AD onwards, books were printed in China by rubbing paper against the inked surface of woodblocks. The traditional Chinese ‘Accordion Book’ was folded and stitched at the side because both sides of the thin, porous sheet could not be printed.For a very long time, the imperial state of China was the major producer of printed material. The Chinese bureaucratic system recruited its personnel through civil services examinations. The imperial state sponsored the large scale printing of textbooks for this examination. The number of candidates for the examinations increased from the sixteenth century, and this increased the volume of print.

By the seventeenth century, the use of print diversified in China because of a blooming urban culture. Print was no longer limited to scholar-officials. Merchants used print in day-to-day life because they collected trade related information. Fictional narratives, poetry, autobiographies, anthologies of literary masterpieces and romantic play became the staple for the reading public. Reading acquired the status of a preferred leisure activity. Rich women began to read and many of them began publishing their poetry and plays.

Print in JapanThe Buddhist missionaries from China introduced hand-printing technology into Japan around 768 – 770 AD. The Buddhist Diamond Sutra which was printed in 868 AD was the oldest Japanese book. Libraries and bookstores were packed with hand-printed materials of various types. These included books on women, musical instruments, calculations, tea ceremony, flower arrangements, proper etiquette, cooking and famous places.

Print Comes to EuropeMarco Polo was a great explorer from Italy. He returned from China in 1295 and brought the knowledge of woodblock printing alongwith him. Thus, printing began in Italy and travelled to other parts of Europe. Vellum was still the preferred material for printing the luxury editions because printed books were considered as cheap vulgarities. Vellum is a parchment made from the skin of animals.

By the early fifteenth century, woodblocks were widely used in Europe to print various materials. It almost replaced the books made by calligraphy.

Gutenberg and the Printing Press

Gutenberg was the son of a merchant. Since his childhood he had seen wine and olive presses. He also learnt the art of polishing stones, and became a master goldsmith and also became an expert in creating lead moulds. Such moulds were used for making trinkets.Gutenberg used his knowledge to bring innovation to the print technology. He used the olive press as the model for the printing press and used the moulds for casting the metal types for the letters. Gutenberg perfected the system by 1448. The first book printed by him was the Bible.Initially, the printed books resembled the written manuscripts in appearance and layout. In the hundred years between 1450 and 1550, printing presses were set up in most parts of Europe. The growth of the print industry was so good that about 20 million books appeared in the European markets in the second half of the fifteenth century. In the sixteenth century, this number went up to about 200 million copies.The Print Revolution and Its ImpactA New Reading Public:With the print technology, a new reading public emerged. Books became cheaper because of printing. Numerous copies could now be produced with much ease. This helped in catering to an ever growing readership.Access to books increased for the public. This helped in creating a new culture of reading. Literacy level was very low till the twentieth century in Europe. Printers kept in mind the wider reach of the printed work. Popular ballads and folk tales were published which could be listened by even the illiterates. Literate people read out stories and ballads to those who could not read.Religious Debates and Fear of PrintPrint created an opportunity of a new debate and discussion. People began questioning some established notions of religion. For the orthodox people, it was like a challenge as they feared the disturbance in old order. In fact, the Protestant Revolution in Christianity began because of print culture. The Roman Church felt troubled by new ideas which raised questions about the existing norms of faith. It even started to maintain an Index of Prohibited Books from 1558.The Reading ManiaThe literacy levels improved through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe. By the end of the eighteenth century, literacy rates were as high as 60 to 80 percent in some parts of Europe. The growth in literacy level created a reading mania among people. Booksellers employed pedlars who roamed around villages to sell books. Periodicals, novels, almanac, etc. formed the staple for the reading mania.Ideas of scientists and philosophers became more accessible to the common people. New ideas could be debated and shared with a wider target audience.

Print Culture and the French RevolutionMany historians are of the view that print culture created the conditions which led to French Revolution. Some of such conditions are as follows:Print popularized the ideas of Enlightenment thinkers. These thinkers gave critical commentary on tradition, superstition and despotism. Voltaire and Rousseau were among the prominent Enlightenment thinkers.Print created a new culture of dialogue and debate. General public began to discuss the values, norms and institutions and tried to re-evaluate the established notions.By the 1780s, there was a surge in literature which mocked the royalty and criticized their morality. Print helped in creating an image of the royalty that they indulged in their own pleasure at the expense of the common public.

The Nineteenth CenturyThere was vast leap in mass literacy in Europe in the nineteenth century. This brought a large numbers of new readers among children, women and workers. Many books were written and printed keeping in mind the sense and sensibilities of children. Many folk tales were rephrased to suit the children. Many women became important as readers as well as writers. The lending libraries which had been in existence from the seventeenth century became the hub of activity for white-collar workers, artisans and lower middle class people.Further InnovationsRichard M. Hoe of New York perfected the power-driven cylindrical press by the mid-nineteenth century. This could print 8,000 sheets per hour. Offset press was developed in the late nineteenth century. This could print up to six colours at a time. Electrically operated presses came in use from the turn of the twentieth century. This helped in accelerating the printing process. Many other innovations took place during this period. All the innovations had a cumulative effect which improved the appearance of printed textsNew forms of PublicationInitially, people got to read the novels which were written by European writers. But people could not relate to those novels because they were written in the European context. Many writers emerged who began to write in the Indian context. People could correlate with the theme and characters of such novels in a better way. Many other new forms of writing also came into origin; like lyrics, short stories, essays about social and political matters, etc.A new visual culture was taking shape by the end of the nineteenth century. Many printing presses started to produce visual images in large numbers. Works of painters; like Raja Ravi Varma were produced for mass circulation through printing.By the 1870s, caricatures and cartoons were being published in journals and newspapers. They commented on various social and political issues.

New Strategies to sell books:Many periodicals serialized important novels in the nineteenth century.In the 1920s in England, popular works were sold in cheap series, called the Shilling Series.The dust cover or book jacket is a twentieth century innovation.Cheap paperback editions were brought to counter the effect of the Great Depression in the 1930s.The Portuguese missionaries were the first to bring printing press to Goa in the mid-sixteenth century. The first books were printed in Konkani language. By 1674, about 50 books had been printed in Konkani and Kanara Languages. Catholic priests printed the first Tamil book in 1579 at Cochin. They printed the first Malayalam book in 1713.From 1780, James Augustus Hickey began to edit the Bengal Gazette. It was a weekly magazine. Hickey also published a lot of gossip about the senior officials of the Company. Governor General Warren Hastings persecuted Hickey. Warren Hastings encouraged the publication of officially sanctioned newspapers to protect the image of the colonial government.The first Indian newspaper was the weekly Bengal Gazette which was brought out by Gangadhar Bhattacharya.Print culture helped in initiating new debate on religious, social and political issues in India. Many existing religious practices were criticized. Rammohun Roy published Sambad Kaumudi from 1821 to criticize the orthodox views in the Hinduism. The Hindu orthodoxy commissioned the Samachar Chandrika to counter his opinions. In 1822, publication of two Persian newspapers began, viz. Jam – i- Jahan Nama and Shamsul Akhbar. Bombay Samachar; a Gujarati newspaper appeared in the same year.In north India, the ulama began to publish cheap lithographic prints which contained Persian and Urdu translations of holy scriptures. They also published religious newspapers and tracts. The Deoband Seminary was founded in 1867. It published thousands upon thousands fatwas about proper conduct in the life of Muslims.Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas was printed from Calcutta in 1810. From the 1880s, the Naval Kishore Press at Lucknow and the Shri Venkateshwar Press in Bombay published many religious texts in vernaculars.Print helped in bringing the religious texts within reach of the common masses. It also helped in shaping the new political debate. It also helped in connecting the people from various parts of India; by carrying news of one part to another.

 Women and Print
  • Many writers wrote about the lives and feelings of women. Due to this, readership among middle-class women increased substantially. There were many liberal husbands and fathers who stressed on women’s education. While some women got education at home, some others went to schools as well. This was the time, when many women writers also began to express their views through their writings.
  • Conservative Hindus and Muslims were still against women’s education. They thought that a girl’s mind would be polluted by education. People wanted their daughters to read religious texts but did not want them to read anything else.
  • While Urdu, Tamil, Bengali and Marathi print culture had developed early, Hindi printing began seriously only from the 1870s.
  • Print and the Poor People
  • Very cheap small books were brought to markets in nineteenth century Madras towns. These books were sold at crossroads so that poor people could buy them. Public libraries were set up from the early twentieth century which helped in increasing the access to books. Many rich people set up library in order to assert their prestige in their area.
  • Print and Censorship
  • Before 1798, the colonial rulers were not too concerned with censorship. Initially, the control measures were directed against Englishmen in India who were critical of Company misrule.
  • After the revolt of 1857, the attitude to freedom of the press changed. The Vernacular Press Act was passed in 1878. The Act provided the government with extensive rights to censor reports and editorials in the vernacular press. In case of a seditious report, the newspaper was warned. If the warning was ignored, the press was liable to be seized and the printing machinery confiscated.