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Mapping Print Areas

A.R. Venkatachalapathy

Edited by Abhijit Gupta and Swapan Chakravorty
Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 251, Rs. 495.00


The history of the book, or book history, as it is beginning to be called now, has for long been the preserve of bibliographers and antiquarians. This has been especially so in India. Looking at books from a narrow and often bibliophilic, if not bibliomaniac, perspective they were more often than not most concerned with debates no more exciting than who printed the first book, which press came first, the role of Christian missionaries, who contributed more to such-and-such language printing, etc. Often their studies were bogged down with national-origins question of printing. Despite the most obvious fact that the work of historians is largely determined (is not the conventional dividing line between history and pre-history the invention of writing?) by documents, and mostly printed ones, their spectacular blindness to the concerns of book history is both inexplicable and astonishing.       While we do have, not only in English but I presume in most Indian languages (I can vouch for Tamil), a significant body of knowledge on the history of printing, very rarely do any of them tackle questions that interest a larger body of scholars across narrow disciplinarian specializations. With the shift towards cultural history and cultural studies generally, and especially because of the inspiring influence of French historians, fortunately this has begun to change. A group of young scholars, many of whom have contributed to this volume, have now started to look at book history in a way that transcends the earlier narrow concerns of bibliographers and addresses the concerns of historians, sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists, literary specialists and others. Print Areas: Book History in India, marks the first attempt at bringing together essays which fall into this emerging specialization. As more and more elegies and requiems are being composed over the death of the book, hopefully not like the owl of Minerva, book history seems to be in full flight.       In their introduction the editors Abhijit Gupta and Swapan Chakravorty survey the field in India – which is of course more or less barren with only a sprinkling of oases. Drawing attention to the newness of the discipline, they survey recent attempts to institutionalize it academically like the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP) and the graduate programmes in book history that are being now taught in many departments in the western academia. (However, the editors’ claim that Jadavpur University is exceptional in teaching a ...

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