Did Ottoman Sultans ban print?

Did printing transform the Ottoman Empire? And what took the Ottomans so long to print? Much of the scholarship surrounding the topic of Ottoman printing, or the occurrence of printing within the Ottoman Empire (1453–1922), is structured around these two related frameworks. In this essay, I argue that these frameworks are ahistorical because they predicate Ottoman printing on the European experience of print. To support this point, I examine the disproportionate role played by certain early modern European accounts of Ottoman printing within Western and Arabic historiography. In particular, I examine the life cycle of scholars’ belief that Ottoman sultans banned printing, which I contrast with extant documentation for the imperial Porte’s stance on printing. I argue that the sources available to scholars today do not support the notion that the sultans banned printing. Rather, they demonstrate that this claim arose from early modern European scholars’ search to articulate their sense of Ottoman inadequacy through explanations for why Ottomans did not print. The history of this particular line of inquiry is significant, I argue, because many scholars continue to probe the issue of why Ottomans did not print. In so doing, they maintain the expectation that print would revolutionize society, even though they have begun questioning the existence of the ban.

That is from Kathryn A. Schwartz, in Print History (jstor).  Via Benedikt A.


Comments for this post are closed