Chapter 7: Print Culture and The 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.

Very Short Answer type Questions [1 Mark]

Q.1: - What is calligraphy?

Ans:- The art of stylish writing.

Q.2.: - What was Gutenberg‘s first printed book?

Ans:- Bible

Q.3: -What were ‗Penny Chapbooks‘?

Ans:- Pocket – sized books

Q.4: - Who introduced the printing press in India-

Ans:- Portuguese

Q.5: - Who wrote ‗My childhood My university‘.

Ans:- Maxim Gorky

Q.6: - When was the Vernacular press act passed?

Ans:- 1878

Q.7: - Who said, ―Printing is the ultimate gift of god and the greatest one.‖

Ans:- Martin Luther

Q.8: - Which is the oldest printed book of Japan

Ans:- Diamond Sutra

Q.9: - Who wrote 95 theses?

Ans:- Martin Luther

Q.10:- Who authored ‗Gitagovinda‘?

Ans:- Jayadeva

Short Answers Type Questions

Q.1: - Explain any three features of handwritten manuscripts before the age of print in India?


  1. They were copied on palm leaves or on handmade papers.
  2. Pages were beautifully illustrated.
  3. They were pressed between wooden covers or sewn together to ensure preservation.
  4. Manuscripts were available in vernacular languages.
  5. Highly expensive & fragile.
  6. They could not be read easily as script was written in different styles.
  7. They were not widely used in everyday life.

Q.2: - Why did the woodblock method become popular in Europe?


  1. Production of handwritten manuscripts could not meet the ever increasing demand for books.
  2. Copying was an expensive, laborious and time consuming business.
  3. The manuscripts were fragile, awkward to handle and could not be carried around or read easily.
  4. By the early 15th century, woodblocks started being widely used in Europe to print textiles, playing cards and religious pictures with simple, brief texts.

Q.3: - What was the role of new visual image‘ culture in printing in India?


  1. In the end of 19th century a new visual culture had started.
  2. With the increasing number of printing presses visual images could be easily reproduced in multiple copies.
  3. Painters like Raja Ravi Verma‘ produced images for mass circulation.
  4. Cheap prints and calendars were brought even by the poor to decorate the walls of their houses.

Q.4: - ―Print popularized the ideas of the idea of the enlightenment thinkers.Explain.


  1. Collectively the writings of thinkers provided a critical commentary on tradition, superstition and despotism.
  2. Scholars and thinkers argued for the rule of reason rather than custom and demanded that everything to be judged through the application of reason and rationality.
  3. They attacked the sacred authority of the church and the despotic power of the state thus eroding the legitimacy of a social order based on tradition.
  4. The writing 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.

Long Answer type Questions

Q.1: - How print revolution led to the development of reading mania in Europe.

Ans.:-As literacy and schools spread in European countries there was a virtual reading mania.

  1. A new forms of popular literature appeared to target new readers
  2. There were ritual calendars along with ballads and folk tales.
  3. In England penny chapbooks were carried by petty peddlers known as chapmen and sold for a penny, So that even poor could buy them.
  4. In France these law priced books were called Bibliotheque Bleue as they were bound in cheap blue covers.
  5. There were romances, histories, books of various sixes, serving developed to combine information on current affairs with entertainment.
  6. Periodical pressed developed to combine information on current affairs with entertainment.
  7. The idea of scientists and scholars had now become more accessible to the common people.

Q.2: - How did oral culture enter print and how was the printed material transmitted orally? Explain

Ans.:- Oral culture entered print into the following ways –

  1. Printers published popular ballads and folktales.
  2. Books were profusely illustrated with pictures. Printed material was transmitted orally in the following ways.

            I. These were sung at gathering in villages, taverns and in towns.

            II. They were recited in public gathering.

Q.3: - Explain the impact of print on Indian women.


  1. Writers started writing about the lives and features of women and this increased the number of women readers.
  2. Women writers write their own autobiography. They highlighted the condition of women, their ignorance and how they forced to do hard domestic labour.
  3. A large section of Hindu writing was devoted to the education of women.
  4. In the early 20th century the journals written by women become very popular in which women‘s education, widowhood, widow remarriage were discussed.
  5. Many writers published how to teach women to be obedient wives.

Q.4: - By the end of the 19th century a new visual cultural was taking shapes. Write any three features of this new visual cultural.


  1. Visual images could be easily reproduced in multiple copies.
  2. Printers produced images for mass circulation cheap prints and calendars could be brought even by the poor.
  3. By the 1870‘s caricatures and cartoons were being published in journals and newspapers.
  4. Mass production of cost and visual images reduced the cost of production. So cheap prints and calendars were available in the market even for the poor to decorate the walls of their homes.

Q.5: -Many Histories have argued that print culture created the conditions within which the French Revolution occurred.‘ Explain.


  1. The print popularized the ideas of the enlightened thinkers who attacked the authority of the church and the despotic power of the state.
  2. The print created a new culture of dialogue and debate and the public become aware of reasoning. They recognized the need to question the existing ideas and beliefs.
  3. The literature of 1780‘s mocked the royalty and criticized their morality and the existing social order. This literature led to the growth of hostile sentiments against.