Book history, print, and the Middle East

Kathryn Schwartz


This article describes how the study of Middle Eastern book history arose from scholarship on the history of the book, a multifaceted line of inquiry which developed around the early modern European experience of print. I argue that these origins influenced Middle Eastern book history insofar as it took the topic of printing as its main focus. However, an unevenness characterized this focus since European printing became commonplace from the early sixteenth century onwards, whereas printing in the Middle East took off during the nineteenth century. The 400 years that separated these phenomena marked the rise of modern Europe, which print was considered to have helped advance. These years were also interpreted as representing the decline of the Islamicate world until it modernized along a Western model, including its widespread adoption of print. Focusing largely on scholarship written in English, I summarize the effects that such thinking has had in shaping Middle Eastern book history, and then conclude with my sense of the state of current research.

Published in

History Compass, vol. 15, n. 12, December 2017