Print Culture and the Modern World

NCERT Questions

Question 1.
Give reasons tor the following:

(a) Woodblock print only came to Europe aiter 1295.
(b) Martin Luther was in favour of print and spoke out in praise of it.
(c) The Roman Catholic Church began keeping an Index of prohibited books from the mid- sixteenth century.
(d) Gandhi said the fight for Swaraj is a fight for liberty of speech, liberty of the press, and freedom of association.


(a) Because Marco Polo, a great explorer, brought the knowledge of woodblock printing with him to Italy from China in 1295.

(b) Because it was print which gave him opportunity to criticise many of the practices and rituals of the Roman.

(c) Print and popular religious literature stimulated many distinctive individual interpretations of faith even among littleeducated working people. People reinterpreted the message of the Bible and formulated a view of God and Creation that enraged the Roman Catholic Church.

The Roman Church, troubled by such effects of popular readings and questionings of faith, imposed severe controls over publishers and booksellers and began to maintain an Index of Prohibited Books from the mid¬sixteenth century.

(d) In his speech in 1922, Gandhiji uttered these words because he believed that without the liberty of speech, the liberty . of press and freedom of association, no country can exist. To get freedom from foreign domination and bring nationalism, these liberties are essential components.

Question 2.
Write short notes to show what you know about :

(a) The Gutenberg Press
(b) Erasmus’s idea of the printed book
(c) The Vernacular Press Act


(a) The Gutenberg Press’ invented by Johann Gutenberg in the 1430s was the first printing press of Europe. As Gutenberg grew up on a large agricultural estate, he had knowledge and experience in operating wine and olive presses. 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, the printing press had been perfected.

(b) Erasmus was a Latin scholar and a Catholic reformer. He criticised the excesses of Catholicism but kept his distance from Luther and expressed a deep anxiety about printing. He wrote in Adages (1508)—”To what corner of the world do they not fly, these swarms Iof new books?

It may be that one here and there contributes something worth knowing, but the very multitude of them is hurtful to scholarship, because it creates a glut, and even in good things satiety is most harmful… (printers) fill the world with books, not just trifling things (such as I write, perhaps), but stupid, ignorant, slanderous, scandalous, raving, irreligious and seditious books, and the number of them is such that even the valuable publications lose their value.”

(c) The Vernacular Press Act was passed by the British government in India in 1878. It was modelled on the Irish Press laws. It provided the government with extensive rights to censor reports and editorials in the vernacular press.

Through it the government kept regular track of the vernacular newspapers published in different provinces. If any seditious material was published by a vernacular paper, the paper was banned and t machinery was seized.

Question 3.
What did the spread of print culture in nineteenth century India mean to:

(a) Women
(b) The poor
(c) Reformers


(a) With the introduction and development of print, lives and feelings of women began to be written in particularly vivid and intense ways. Women’s reading increased enormously in middle-class homes. Liberal husbands and fathers began educating their womenfolk at home, and sent them to schools when women’s schools were set up in the cities and towns after the mid-nineteenth century.

Many journals began carrying writings by women, and explained why women should be educated.Literature encouraged women to say about their own lives. Many women such as Kailashbashini Debi, Tarabai Shinde and Pandita Ramabai wrote books highlighting the experiences and miserable lives of women.

(b) As the literacy rate improved in India, very cheap small books were brought to markets in nineteenth-century Madras towns and sold at crossroads, allowing poor people travelling to markets to buy them. Public libraries were set up from the early twentieth century, expanding the excess to books.

From the late nineteenth century, issues of caste discrimination began to be written about in many printed tracts and essays.

Workers in factories also wrote and published their books to show the links between caste and class exploitation. By the 1903s, Bangalore cotton millworkers set up libraries to educate themselves.

(c) The spread of print culture brought intellectual awakening among reformers. They began publishing newspapers, books and journals to highlight the social evils prevailing in the society. In 1821, Raja Rammohun Roy published Sarnbad Kaumudi against Hindu Orthodoxy.

From the 1860s, a few Bengali women like Kailashbashini Debi wrote books highlighting the experiences of women. In the 1880s, in present-day Maharashtra, Tarabai Shinde and Pandita Ramabai wrote with passionate anger about the miserable lives of upper caste Hindu women, especially widows.

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 and E. V. Ramaswamy also wrote powerfully against caste system.

Question 4.
Why did some people in eighteenth century Europe think that print culture would bring enlightenment and end despotism?

After the coming of the print culture, the ideas of scientists and philosophers became more accessible to the common people. Scientific discoveries published by scientists like Isaac Newton influenced a much wider circle of scientifically minded readers.

In their writings, thinkers argued for the rule of reason rather than custom, and demanded that everything be judged through the application of reason and rationality. 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.

When people read these books, they saw the world through new eyes, eyes that were questioning, critical and rational. So some people thought that print culture could change the world, liberate society from despotism and tyranny and herald a time when reason and intellect would rule.

Question 5.
Why did some people fear the effect of easily available printed books? Choose one example from Europe and one from India.

In Europe, some people feared the effect of easily available printed books because 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.

Example from Europe : In 1517, the religious reformer Martin Luther wrote Ninety-Five Theses criticising many of the practices and rituals of the Roman Catholic Church. A printed copy of this was pasted on a church door in

Witten berg. It challenged the Church to debate his ideas. Luther’s writings were immediately reproduced in vast numbers and read widely. This led to a division within the Church and to the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

In India fear about printed books was related to women’s education. Conse Native Hindus believed that a literate girl would be widowed and Muslims thought that educated women would be corrupted by reading Urdu romances.

Example from India : In East Bengal, in the early nineteenth century, Rashsundari Debi, a young married girl in a very orthodox household, learnt to read in the secrecy of her kitchen. Later, she wrote her autobiography Amar Jiban which was published in 1876. It was the first full length autobiography published in the Bengali language.

Question 6.
What were the effects of the spread of print culture for poor people in nineteenth century India?

Refer to Question 3 (b).

Question 7.
Explain how print culture assisted the growth of nationalism in India.

(a) Print introduced a new world of debate and discussion. These intense debates were on social, economic and religious issues. In the 19th century, 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. All this led to a wider participation of public in these public discussions, assisting the growth of nationalism in India.

(b) Print did not only stimulate the publication of conflicting opinions amongst communities, but it also connected communities and people in various parts of India. Newspapers conveyed news from one place to another, creating pan-Indian identities.

(c) Nationalist cartoons were published, criticising imperial rule.

(d) Libraries sponsored by social reformers were set up to bring literacy and propagate the message of nationalism.

(e) Though the colonial government took various steps to control press freedom, nationalist newspapers grew in numbers in all parts of India, reporting on colonial misrule and encouraging nationalist activities.

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