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Print Culture and Modern World Notes | Class 10 History

The First Printed Books

The earliest print technology was developed in China, Japan and Korea.

Books in China were printed by rubbing paper against wood blocks. They could not print on both sides as the paper was thin and porous. The Chinese ‘Accordion Book’ was printed and stitched on one side. Before the books were printed, the text was copied by skilled craftsmen with accuracy.

The art of writing beautifully is called Calligraphy.

Why was China the major producer of printed material?

China recruited its large number of bureaucrats (civil services officers) through examinations which was sponsored by the imperial state and the examination required a large number of textbooks for students to prepare from.

  • Use by Traders : As urbanization and trade grew, merchants started using print to collect and store trade information.

  • Leisure Activity: Reading also became a leisure activity. Rich women began to read and write and a lot of fiction, poetry, anthologies and autobiographies were also written.

  • New technology such as mechanical press and western printing techniques were also used and soon Shanghai became the hub of new print culture.

The western ways of writing (schools) also began to flourish and there was a gradual shift from hand printing to mechanical printing.

Print in Japan

Buddhist missionaries from China introduced hand printing technology to Japan. The Buddhist ‘Diamond Sutra’ was the oldest Japanese book. Pictures began to be printed on various materials such as textiles, playing cards and money.

The illustrated collections of paintings depicted an elegant urban culture involving artisans, courtesans and teahouse gatherings.

Libraries and bookstores were packed with hand-printed material of various types – books on women, musical instruments, calculations, tea ceremony, flower arrangements, proper etiquette, cooking and famous places.

What is ‘ukiyo’ ?

Kitagawa Utamaro an artist born in Edo (Tokyo) contributed to the development of the ‘ukiyo’ art form. It refers to ’pictures of the floating world’ or depiction of ordinary human experiences, especially urban ones.

Print Comes to Europe

Chinese paper reached Europe through the silk route in the 11th century. Marco Polo brought the knowledge of print to Italy, which eventually spread to entire Europe.

The wealthy employed scribes or skilled hand writers to increase the production of handwritten manuscripts.

Luxury editions were still handwritten on very expensive vellum (calf skin), meant for aristocratic circles and rich monastic libraries which scoffed at printed books as cheap vulgarities.

Merchants and students in the university towns bought the cheaper printed copies. However, the handwritten manuscripts could not satisfy the ever increasing demand for books because the manuscripts were fragile, awkward to handle and could not be carried around or read easily. Copying also was an expensive, laborious and time-consuming business.

Gutenberg and the Printing Press

In the 1430s, Johann Gutenberg developed the printing press. He learnt the art of polishing stones, became a master goldsmith, and also acquired the expertise to create lead molds used for making trinkets.

The first book printed on Gutenberg’s printing press was the Bible and Ii took three years to print 180 copies of the Bible. He used existing technology of olive press to make his printing machine.

But this new printing technology did not displace the old art of handwritten manuscripts. The first printed books closely resembled the written manuscripts in appearance and layout. Borders were illuminated by hand with foliage and other patterns, and illustrations were painted.

In the books printed for the rich, space for decoration was kept blank on the printed page. Each purchaser could choose the design and decide on the painting school that would do the illustrations.

A New Reading Public

Between 1450 -1550 Printing presses were set up in most countries of Europe. 20 million copies of printed books flooded the European markets during the second half of the 15th century. The time and labor required for producing each book decreased and multiple copies could be produced with greater ease.

Common people now had access to books and therefore the oral culture of a hearing public was now replaced by a reading public.

How did oral culture enter print and the printed material was orally transmitted?

Printers began publishing new ballads and folktales with illustrated pictures. These were then sung and recited at gatherings in villages and in taverns in towns for those people who could not read. Oral culture thus entered 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.

Religious Debates and the Fear of Print

The new printed literature was criticized as it was feared that if there was no control over what was printed and read, then rebellious and irreligious thoughts might spread. Those who disagreed with established authorities could now print and circulate ideas.

1517: A religious reformer, Martin Luther wrote ‘Ninety-five Theses’ criticizing many of the practices and rituals of the Roman Catholic Church. It challenged the Church to debate his ideas. Deeply grateful to print, Luther said, ‘Printing is the ultimate gift of God and the greatest one.’

Luther’s writings were immediately reproduced in vast numbers and read widely and led to a division within the Church and to the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

1558: The Roman Church, troubled by effects of popular readings and questionings of faith, imposed several controls over publishers and booksellers and began to maintain an Index of Prohibited Books.

Menocchio, a miller in Italy, was hauled up twice and ultimately executed because he reinterpreted the message of the Bible and formulated a view of God and Creation that enraged the Roman Catholic Church.

Several scholars think that print brought about a new intellectual atmosphere and helped spread the new ideas that led to the Reformation.

The Reading Mania

By the end of the 18th century, literacy rates in Europe were as high as 60 to 80%. Churches of different denominations set up schools in villages, carrying literacy to peasants and artisans.

New forms of literature appeared in print that targeted new audiences. There were almanacs (astronomical calendar) or ritual calendars, along with ballads and folktales.

In England, penny chapbooks were carried by petty pedlars known as chapmen. They were sold for a penny and could be afforded even by the poor.

In France, were the “Bibliotheque Bleue”, which were low-priced small books printed on poor quality paper, and bound in cheap blue covers.

  • Ancient and medieval scientific texts were compiled and published.

  • Maps and scientific diagrams were widely printed.

  • The discoveries of Isaac Newton and the writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire and Jean Jacques Rousseau were also widely printed and read.

People believed that books could change the world, liberate society from despotism and tyranny and herald a time when reason and intellect would rule.

Print Culture and the French Revolution

Print culture created the conditions within which the French Revolution occurred. It did not directly shape their minds, but it did open up the possibility of thinking differently.

Print popularized the ideas of the 'Enlightenment thinkers'.

They attacked the sacred authority of the Church and the despotic powers of the state; thus eroding the legitimacy of a social order based on tradition.

Voltaire and Rousseau were widely read. All values, norms and institutions were re-evaluated and discussed by a public that was inquisitive, critical and rational. Hence, new ideas of social revolution came into being.

By the 1780s Literature mocked the royalty and criticized their morality. This led to the growth of hostile sentiments against the monarchy.

Louise-Sebastien Mercier, a novelist in eighteenth-century France, 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, are lost in the world books create, and become enlightened in the process. Convinced of the power of print in bringing enlightenment and destroying the basis of despotism, Mercier proclaimed: ‘Tremble, therefore, tyrants of the world! Tremble before the virtual writer!’

Children, Women and Workers

As primary education became compulsory from the late nineteenth century, children became an important category of readers.

1857: A children’s press devoted to literature for children alone was set up in France.This press published new works as well as old fairy tales and folk tales. The Grimm Brothers in Germany spent years compiling traditional folk tales gathered from peasants.

Anything that was considered unsuitable for children or would appear vulgar to the elites, was not included in the published version. Rural folk tales thus acquired a new form. In this way, print recorded old tales but also changed them.

Women became important readers and writers. Penny magazines were especially meant for women, as were manuals teaching proper behavior and housekeeping.

The writings of George Eliot, Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters were read and enjoyed. Their writings became important in defining a new type of woman: a person with will, strength of personality, determination and the power to think.

Further Innovations

By the mid-19th century, Richard M. Hoe of New York had perfected the power -driven cylindrical press, which printed 8,000 sheets per hour.

In the late 19th century, the offset print was developed that could print about 6 colours at a time.

From the turn of the 20th century, presses operated electrically, methods of feeding paper were improvised, the quality of plates became better, automatic paper reels and photoelectric controls of the color register were introduced.

With the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s, publishers feared a decline in book purchases. To sustain buying, they brought out cheap paperback editions.

1920s: In England, popular works were sold in cheap series, called the Shilling Series. Book jackets were also introduced.

In the 19th century, lending libraries in England became instruments for educating white-collar workers, artisans and lower middle-class people. After the working day was gradually shortened from the mid-nineteenth century, workers had some time for self-improvement and self-expression. They wrote political tracts and autobiographies in large numbers.

India and the World of Print

India had a very rich and old tradition of handwritten manuscripts in Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian and other vernacular languages. Manuscripts were copied on palm leaves or on handmade paper.

They would be preserved between wooden covers or sewn together. They were highly expensive, fragile and illegible.

Even though pre-colonial Bengal had developed an extensive network of village primary schools, students very often did not read texts. They only learnt to write.

Teachers dictated portions of texts from memory and students wrote them down. Many thus became literate without ever actually reading any kinds of texts.

Print Comes to India

  • Mid-16th century: The first printing press came to Goa with Portuguese missionaries. By 1674, about 50 books had been printed in Konkani and in Kannada languages.

  • Cochin, 1579: Catholic priests printed the first Tamil book and also printed Malayalam books to propagate their religion.

By 1710, Dutch protestant missionaries had printed 32 Tamil texts

From 1780: James Augustus Hickey began editing the Bengal Gazette, a weekly magazine. Hickey published a lot of advertisements, including those that related to the import and sale of slaves. But he also published 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 that could counter the flow of information that damaged the image of the colonial government.

Note : The first newspaper printed was also the Bengal Gazette brought out by Gangadhar Bhattacharya, who was close to Rammohun Roy.

Religious Reform and Public Debates

From the early 19th century, there were intense debates around religious issues. Some criticized existing practices and campaigned for reform, while others countered the arguments of reformers.

Public tracts and newspapers spread the new ideas and generated discussions and expressions from the public.

  • 1821:Raja RamMohan Roy published the ‘Sambad Kaumudi’ and the Hindu orthodoxy commissioned the Samachar Chandrika to oppose his opinions

  • From 1822: Two Persian newspapers were published, Jam-i-Jahan Nama and Shamsul Akhbar.

  • A Gujarati newspaper, the Bombay Samachar, was also published.

  • In North India, the ulema were deeply anxious about the collapse of Muslim dynasties. They used cheap lithographic presses, published Persian and Urdu translations of Holy Scriptures and printed religious tracts and newspapers.

  • The Deoband Seminary, founded in 1867, published thousands upon thousands of fatwas telling Muslim readers how to conduct themselves in their everyday lives, and explaining the meanings of Islamic doctrines

  • Calcutta, 1810: The first printed edition of the Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas, a 16th century text, appeared.

  • From the 1880s, the Naval Kishore Press at Lucknow and the Shri Venkateshwar Press in Bombay published numerous religious texts in vernaculars

New Forms of Publication

New literary forms such as novels, lyrics, short stories and essays about political and social matters reinforced the new emphasis on human lives and intimate feelings and the political and social rules that shaped such things. By the end of the 19th century,visual images could be easily reproduced in multiple copies.

Painters such as Raja Ravi Verma produced images for mass circulation. Cheap prints and calendars were easily available in the bazaar. These prints shaped ideas about modernity and tradition, religion and politics, and society and culture.

By the 1870s, there were imperial caricatures lampooning nationalists as well as nationalist cartoons criticizing imperial rule.

Women and Print

Liberal husbands and fathers began educating their womenfolk at home and sent them to schools . Many journals began carrying writings by women and explained why women should be educated.

Conservative Hindus on the other hand believed that a literate girl would be widowed and Muslims feared that educated women would be corrupted by reading Urdu romances.

  • 1876: Rashsundari Debi’s autobiography, Amar Jiban,was published. It was the first full-length autobiography published in the Bengali language.

  • From 1860s: Few Bengali women such as Kailashbashini Debi wrote books highlighting the experiences of women.

  • In 1880s (Maharashtra): Tarabai Shinde and Pandita Ramabai wrote with passionate anger about the miserable lives of upper-caste Hindu women, especially widows.

While Urdu, Tamil, Bengali and Marathi print culture had developed early, Hindi printing began seriously only from the 1870s. Soon, a large segment of it was devoted to the education of 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.

Conservative Print

  • In Punjab, Ram Chaddha published 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.

Print and the Poor People

Very cheap and small books were brought to markets in the 19th century. Madras towns sold at crossroads, allowing poor people traveling to markets to buy them.

Public libraries were set up from the early . These libraries were mostly located in cities and towns and at times in prosperous villages.

  • 1871: Jyotiba Phule, the Maratha pioneer of ‘low caste’ protest movements, wrote about the injustices of the caste system in his Gulamgiri.

  • In the 20th century, B.R. Ambedkar in Maharashtra and E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker in Madras, better known as Periyar, wrote powerfully on caste and their writings were read by people all over India.

  • 1938: Kashibaba, a Kanpur millworker, wrote and published Chhote Aur Bade Ka Sawal. The poems of Kashibaba and Sudarsan Chakra (another Kanpur millworker) were compiled in Sacchi Kavitayen

By the 1930s, Bangalore cotton millworkers set up libraries for educating themselves. These were sponsored by social reformers who tried to restrict excessive drinking among them, for bringing literacy and, sometimes, for propagating the message of nationalism.

Print and Censorship

Before 178, the colonial state under the East India Company was too concerned with censorship.

By the 1820s, The Calcutta Supreme Court passed certain regulations to control press freedom and the Company began encouraging publication of newspapers that would celebrate the British rule.

In 1835, faced with urgent petitions by editors of the English and vernacular newspapers, Governor- General William Bentinck agreed to revise press laws. Thomas Macaulay formulated new rules that restored their earlier freedoms.

After the revolt of 1857, press freedoms were clamped down.

1878: The Vernacular Press Act was passed, modeled on the Irish Press Laws. It provided the government with extensive rights to censor reports and editorials in the vernacular press.

1907: When the Punjab revolutionaries were deported, Bal Gangadhar Tilak wrote with great sympathy about them in his Kesari. This led to his imprisonment in 1908. During the First World War, under the Defense of India Rules, 22 newspapers had to furnish securities.


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