Philobiblon: 80,000 scribes

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

80,000 scribes

Catching up today with the December 24 Times Literary Supplement read a review of what sounds like a fascinating title: In Praise of Books: A Cultural History of Cairo's Middle Class, 16th to the 18th Century, by Nelly Hanna.

I hadn't realised that most of the Islamic world had refused for these centuries at least to accept printing, as a result of the reverence for calligraphy and the script of the Koran. Instead, according to the Bolognese scholar Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli, who had been a captive of the Turks, there were 80,000 copyists employed in Baghdad alone.

While the situation in Egypt regarding printing was the same, the cheap paper available there meant even hand-copied books were within the means of the "middle class". The review suggests that she finds female as well as male readers ... definitely one to put on the to-read list.

Also interesting: Domesticity and dissent in the seventeenth-century: English women writers and the public sphere, Katharine Gillespie, Cambridge University Press 2004.


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