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PRINT CULTURE & MODERN WORLD

The First Printed Books

The 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 Japan

The 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 Europe

Marco 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 Impact


A 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 Print

Print 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 Mania

The 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 Revolution

Many 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 Century

There 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 Innovations

Richard 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 texts.

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.

India and the World of Print

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.

New forms of Publication

Initially, 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.

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.
Explain how print culture assisted the growth of nationalism in India.

Answer: Print culture helped in developing a culture of dialogue among people. Ideas of social reform could be
spread in a better way. Gandhiji spread his ideas of swadeshi in powerful way through newspapers. Many
vernacular newspapers came up in India. These helped in spreading the message of nationalism to majority of the
Indian masses. Even in spite of repressive measures print culture was a revolution which could not be stopped.

Give reasons for the following:

Woodblock print only came to Europe after 1295.

Answer: Marco Polo returned to Italy from China in 1295 and brought with him the knowledge of woodblock
printing.

Martin Luther was in favour of print and spoke out in praise of it.

Answer: Martin Luther’s criticism of Roman Catholic church reached a large section of masses because of print.
Hence he was in favour of print and spoke out in praise of it.

The Roman Catholic Church began keeping an Index of Prohibited books from the mid-sixteenth century.

Answer: Because of print new interpretation of Bible reached to people and they started questioning the
authority of church. Due to this the Roman Catholic Church began keeping and index of Prohibited books from
the mid – sixteenth century.

Gandhi said the fight for Swaraj is a fight for liberty of speech, liberty of the press, and freedom of association.

Answer: The power of the printed word is most often seen in the way governments seek to regulate and suppress
print. The colonial government kept continuous track of all books and newspapers published in India and passed
numerous laws to control the press. Because of this Gandhi said the fight for Swaraj is a fight for liberty of
speech, liberty of the press, and freedom of association.

Write short notes on following:

The Gutenberg Press

Answer: Gutenberg was the son of a merchant and grew up on a large agricultural estate. From his childhood he
had seen wine and olive presses. Subsequently, he learnt the art of polishing stones, became a master goldsmith,
and also acquired the expertise to create lead moulds used for making trinkets. Drawing on this knowledge,
Gutenberg adapted 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. About 180 copies were printed and it
took three years to produce them. By the standards of the time this was fast production.

Erasmus’s idea of the printed book


Answer: Erasmus thought that books were not good for sanctity of scholastic knowledge. He was of the opinion
that printed books would glut the market with contents which will do more harm than good to society. Because of
this the value of good content would be lost in the din.

The Vernacular Press Act

Answer: 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 warned, and if the warning was ignored, the press was liable to be seized
and the printing machinery confiscated.

What did the spread of print culture in nineteenth century India mean to:

Women

Answer: Because of printing technique books became cheaper. Many hawkers started selling books from door to
door. This created easy availability of books for majority of women. Apart from this many liberal males
encouraged women from their families to read. Novels contained interesting descriptions of women’s lives. This
created interest among women readers. Women, who were earlier cocooned inside their homes could now know
about the outside world thanks to the print technology. This created a spurt of many women writers in India. It
can be said that print culture not only created readers among women but also writers among them.

The poor

Answer: Very cheap small books were brought to markets in nineteenth-century Madras towns and sold at
crossroads, allowing poor people traveling to markets to buy them. Public libraries were set up from the early
twentieth century, expanding the access to books.

From the late nineteenth century, issues of caste discrimination began to be written about in many printed tracts
and essays. This helped in bringing these issues to the forefront of public consciousness.

Workers in factories were too overworked and lacked the education to write much about their experiences. But
some workers took initiative to write stories about their conditions. These narratives contained issues related to
class oppression. So worker’s problems also came to the fore.

Answer the following questions:

What did the spread of print culture in nineteenth century India mean to reformers?

Answer: 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. Some criticised existing practices and campaigned for reform,
while others countered the arguments of reformers. These debates were carried out in public and in print. Printed
tracts and newspapers not only spread the new ideas, but they shaped 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.

This was a time of intense controversies between social and religious reformers and the Hindu orthodoxy over
matters like widow immolation, monotheism, Brahmanical priesthood and idolatry. In Bengal, as the debate
developed, tracts and newspapers proliferated, circulating a variety of arguments. To reach a wider audience, the
ideas were printed in the everyday, spoken language of ordinary people.

Why did some people in eighteenth century Europe think that print culture would bring enlightenment and end
despotism?

Answer: Because of print books became affordable for masses. This helped in spreading revolutionary ideas to a
vast section of society in a more efficient way. Many contemporary thinkers, like Martin Luther and Monochhio
could fire people’s imagination because of help from print technology. Even for scientists it became easier to
share knowledge and spread knowledge. So, people in eighteenth century Europe started thinking that print
culture would bring enlightenment and end despotism.

Why did some people fear the effect of easily available printed books? Choose one example from Europe and one
from India.

Answer: Not everyone welcomed the printed book, and those who did also had fears about it. Many were
apprehensive of the effects that the easier access to the printed word and the wider circulation of books, could
have on people’s minds. It was feared that if there was no control over what was printed and read 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 that had began to circulate.

Example from Europe: Erasmus thought that books were not good for sanctity of scholastic knowledge. He was
of the opinion that printed books would glut the market with contents which will do more harm than good to
society. Because of this the value of good content would be lost in the din.

Example from India: Conservative Hindus believed that a literate girl would be widowed and Muslims feared that
educated women would be corrupted by reading Urdu romances.

What were the effects of the spread of print culture for poor people in nineteenth century India?

Answer: Very cheap small books were brought to markets in nineteenth-century Madras towns and sold at
crossroads, allowing poor people traveling to markets to buy them. Public libraries were set up from the early
twentieth century, expanding the access to books.
From the late nineteenth century, issues of caste discrimination began to be written about in many printed tracts
and essays. This helped in bringing these issues to the forefront of public consciousness.

Workers in factories were too overworked and lacked the education to write much about their experiences. But
some workers took initiative to write stories about their conditions. These narratives contained issues related to
class oppression. So worker’s problems also came to the fore.

Extra Questions:Print Culture & Modern World

How did print culture affect women in the 19th century India?

Answer: Because of printing technique books became cheaper. Many hawkers started selling books from door to
door. This created easy availability of books for majority of women. Apart from this many liberal males
encouraged women from their families to read. Novels contained interesting descriptions of women’s lives. This
created interest among women readers. Women, who were earlier cocooned inside their homes could now know
about the outside world thanks to the print technology. This created a spurt of many women writers in India. It
can be said that print culture not only created readers among women but also writers among them.

Describe the role of nationalist newspaper in spreading nationalistic feelings among the people in the early 20th
century.

Answer: Despite repressive measures, nationalist newspapers grew in numbers in all parts of India. They
reported on colonial misrule and encouraged nationalist activities. Attempts to throttle nationalist criticism
provoked militant protest. This in turn led to a renewed cycle of persecution and protests. 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. Thus nationalist
newspaper played important role in spreading nationalistic feelings among people in the early 20th century.

How did the print culture help scientist and philosopher?

Answer: The ideas of scientists and philosophers now became more accessible to the common people. Ancient
and medieval scientific texts were compiled and published, and maps and scientific diagrams were widely
printed. When scientists like Isaac Newton began to publish their discoveries, they could influence a much wider
circle of scientifically minded readers. The writings of thinkers such as Thomas Paine, Voltaire and Jean Jacques
Rousseau were also widely printed and read. Thus their ideas about science, reason and rationality found their
way into popular literature.

Print did not only stimulate publication of conflicting opinions among different communities but also connected
them in the 19th century India. Support this statement with examples.

Answer: From the early nineteenth century, as you know, 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. Some criticised existing practices and
campaigned for reform, while others countered the arguments of reformers. These debates were carried out in
public and in print. Printed tracts and newspapers not only spread the new ideas, but they shaped 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.

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.

What do you understand by print revolution?

Answer: With the printing press, a new reading public emerged. Printing reduced the cost of books. The time
and labour required to produce each book came down, and multiple copies could be produced with greater ease.
Books flooded the market, reaching out to an ever-growing readership.

Access to books created a new culture of reading. Earlier, reading was restricted to the elites. Common people
lived in a world of oral culture. They heard sacred texts read out, ballads recited, and folk tales narrated.
Knowledge was transferred orally. People collectively heard a story, or saw a performance. Before the age of
print, books were not only expensive but they could not be produced in sufficient numbers. Now books could
reach out to wider sections of people. If earlier there was a hearing public, now a reading public came into being.

How were ideas and information written before the age of print in India? How did the printing technique begin in
India? Explain.

Answer: Age of Manuscripts: India had a very rich and old tradition of handwritten manuscripts – in Sanskrit,
Arabic, Persian, as well as in various 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. Manuscripts continued to be produced till well after the
introduction of print, down to the late nineteenth century.

Beginning of Printing Technique in India: The printing press first came to Goa with Portuguese missionaries
in the mid-sixteenth century. Jesuit priests learnt 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.