Print Culture and the Modern World

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It is said that print technology first evolved in China, Japan and Korea. The simple technology was based on the system of hand printing. The impression of the content was transferred by rubbing the paper against a rigid surface with emerged print patterns. The method was used in China from AD 594 for printing books.

China continued to be the major producer of printed materials for a very long period of time. Print technology was necessary for meeting the rising demand for textbooks in the country, ever since China started conducting its civil service examinations. The scope of print was widened and it was no longer confined to scholars and officials. The traders started using print technology for keeping track of their businesses.

Soon, reading became popular among the rich and educated people. Several writers and poets started publishing their art. There was a need for more advanced print technologies. Mechanical printing presses/new printing techniques were imported from the west.

Print in Japan

The hand-printing technology was brought from China to Japan by Buddhist missionaries, around AD 768-770. Collection of illustrative paintings started becoming a popular urban culture somewhere around the mid and late 19th century. Bookstores and libraries possessed a variety of hand-printed stuff. While some books were on women, the others were on musical instruments etc.

Arrival of ‘Print’ in Europe

On his return to Europe after the Chinese expedition, Marco Polo brought along with him the knowledge of woodblock printing. The technology spread to other parts of Europe within no time. With rising demand worldwide, vendors started exporting books to various countries. Woodblock printing technology promoted the printing of textiles, playing cards and religious pictures in Europe. Guttenberg developed the first printing press ever in the 1430s. 

Gutenberg/Printing Press

The first book printed by Guttenberg using the mechanical printing press was the bible. Still, the practice of making textbooks by hand was not replaced totally! Between 100 years (1450-1550), printing presses came up in almost all countries of Europe. The transition from manuscripts to mechanical printing marked the print revolution.

Print Revolution

With the ‘print revolution’; the change from handwritten scripts to printed scripts, improved the flow of knowledge! ‘Access’ to knowledge became much easier! ‘Print culture’ attracted people and started influencing the social thinking of people. It sparked debates on different ideas and beliefs.

New Reading Audience

  • The print revolution had a significant impact on printing and reading culture.
  • Prices of books dropped drastically, suddenly the markets were flooded with several books on various topics.
  • Common people resorted to the option of listening to readouts of sacred texts.
  • Pictorial graphics and representations were embedded on the printed materials for the benefit of people with lesser reading skills. 
  • The new reading culture increased the literacy percentage considerably!  

‘Print’ in India

  • The first book was printed by Catholic priests in Tamil at Cochin in 1579.
  • A weekly magazine called Bengal Gazette was edited by James Augustus Hickey. 
  • By the end of the 18th century, numerous newspapers and journals were available in India.

Public debates/Religious reforms

  • The print culture laid the perfect platform for social and religious reformers for criticizing the existing practices; they could campaign for reforms.
  • Hindu orthodoxy over practices like widow immolation, monotheism and idolatry were widely criticized. 
  • The Sambad Kaumudi was published by Ram Mohan Roy in 1821.

Women and Print

  • The reading practice increased among the Indian middle-class women.
  • Life of women and their emotions were the central themes of a few novels.
  • ‘Batla’ in Bengal was pretty much devoted to the printing of woman-centric books. 


  • Freedom of the press was regulated during 1857.
  • The Vernacular Press Act gave the government considerable rights to censor the editorials and reports.
  • In 1907, ‘Kesari’ carried the news of deportation of Punjab revolutionaries, This led to the arrest of Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1908.

In this blog, we have discussed the evolution of print over the years.  

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