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Mechanical Copying in Multilingual and Multiscript Manuscript Cultures: Xylography and Lithography in relation with Manuscript Production

Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, Hamburg
30 June - 1 July 2017


From as early as the 8th century CE, mechanical copying was implemented by way of woodblock and typographic printing, technologies that enabled the distribution of tens of thousands of texts in the Chinese and Japanese empires. Arguably, these technologies only reached their formidable impact in the advance of sciences and knowledge after Gutenberg’s innovations in the 15th century. The revolutionary developments triggered and mediated by way of letterpress printing was largely a European phenomenon that had much less impact in other parts of the world. It may be argued that only after xylography and lithography had eased the path, the full impact of mechanical reproduction would take hold of the entire globe. In this workshop we want to focus on especially lithography and the impact it had in the different regions on the production of manuscripts and the connection with other types of mechanical copying methods.

Discovered in a search for a low-cost printing technique for theatre plays, illustrations and music scores at the turn of the 19th century, lithography was soon further developed in Western Europe to serve the industry of art prints, geographical maps and book illustrations. The fact that it reduplicated hand-drawn signs and images was welcomed in regions outside Western Europe where typographic presses were hard pressed to reproduce other scripts and characters besides the standard fonts of the Roman script. Lithography facilitated the reproduction of other scripts and combinations of characters with images in relatively easy and aesthetically sensible ways. As a consequence, the introduction of the technique, which often went by way of proselytising activities of British or American missionaries, spawned small industries to burgeon around Asia and Africa.

The studies to date depict a development in which the art initially was embraced by royal houses in Persia and India which subsequently were perfected and popularised, triggering commercially viable small enterprises that produced editions of texts. Some of these publishers engaged successfully in an international business network that might stretch from Leipzig to Java in the case of the Naval Kishore Publishing Company originally operating from Lucknow in North India. The studies also stress that lithography was an extension of the different manuscript cultures, whose textual layout, calligraphic art, and copying practices were continued during the initial phase of lithographic printing. Only gradually innovations were introduced from other book cultures that changed the products of the lithographic presses.

This workshop will focus on the connection between the manuscript cultures and newly introduced lithographic printing techniques in the different regions of Asia and Africa to examine how the respective manuscript cultures were changed as a result. The historical background of the respective industries being more or less clear, this workshop intends to revolve around the following two key lines of enquiry:

  1. How did lithographic printing techniques influence manuscript production, what consequences did the resulting book production have on the concept of ‘text’ in the respective manuscript traditions, how did concepts of intellectual rights to a text evolve and change under influence of lithography?
  2. How strong or weak was the lithographic art in the respective artistic tradition, was it seen as a mere extension of the manuscript tradition and a cheap and quick way to reduplicate the text and layout of the manuscript or did it evolve into an art of itself in which illuminations, illustrations and colours were added to enhance the visual appeal of the printed text? Was lithography a ‘bridge’ between individual manuscript copying and mass literacy and print capitalism of the typographic presses or seen as a poor way of producing multiple copies of a text at one go?


Programme as pdf file


The workshop will be held at the Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, Warburgstraße 26, Hamburg, Germany. How to find us


Participation is free of charge and vistors are welcome.

You may find the Hamburg Tourismus site useful for finding a suitable accommodation.
For more information please contact us.