Meaningful Mediums: A Material and Intellectual History of Manuscript and Print Production in Nineteenth Century Ottoman Cairo
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CitationSchwartz, Kathryn Anne. 2015. Meaningful Mediums: A Material and Intellectual History of Manuscript and Print Production in Nineteenth Century Ottoman Cairo. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractMeaningful mediums is a study of the political economy of writing in the first Ottoman city to develop a sustained urban print culture. Cairo’s writing economy comprised the longstanding manuscript industry, the governmental printing industry from the 1820s, and the for-profit private press printing industry from the 1850s. I investigate these industries’ functions, interactions, and reputations to explore why Cairene printing developed and how contemporaries ascribed meaning to textual production during this period of flux.
This study relies on the texts themselves to generate the history of their production. I aggregate the names, dates, and other information contained within their openings, contents, and colophons to chart the work of their producers and vendors for the first time. I then contextualize this information through contemporary iconographic and descriptive depictions of Cairene texts. My sources are drawn from libraries and private collections in America, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and France. They include formal and ephemeral manuscripts and printings.
Against narratives that invoke printing as a catalyst for modernity, I argue that printing was simply a tool. Its adoption increased because it was useful for different actors like the state, private entrepreneurs, and scholars who employed it to respond to specific political, economic, and intellectual needs. My argument reverses the causality of modernization narratives, in that I establish that printing was the result of practical demands instead of the origin of new demands. As a tool, printing was deployed by Cairenes flexibly. Some used it to appropriate western norms, including the idea that printing is a civilizing force. Others used it to enact manuscript tradition.
The history of this process is important to social practices, like the creation of new professions. But it is also important to historical legacy. Nationalism, Enlightenment, and civil society are assigned their origins and proof in Cairene printings from the 1870s and 1880s. Yet this narrative of the Middle East’s generic print modernity draws from the expectation for printings to engender public discourse and galvanize society, instead of from the words that these texts actually contain or an understanding of who made and consumed them and why. To counter the prevailing idea that printing is fixed and universal in its value and effects, Meaningful mediums examines printing as both a social and economic practice, and itself a space for ideas. It therefore emphasizes the significance of human agency, local context, constraints, and continuity during a period of momentous technological, textual, and cultural change.
In conclusion, this study documents Cairenes’ incorporation of printing into their political economy of writing and revises the widely held notion that this process was an agent of social change, a marker of modernity and colonial restructuring, and a foreign disruptor of local textual tradition.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:23845476
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