The two-day event will see scholars discuss different aspects of printed books, such as grammar and typography in early printed books; print-house practices and personnel; identity and print; digital expressions of South Asian print; print and the public sphere; solo works/authors in the Age of Reproduction; topographies of print and preservation of print in the digital era.
In his keynote address ‘on the Use of Punctuation in Early Printed Books in Bengali’, Swapan Chakravorty will focus on how punctuation was sparse and uneven in Bengali handwritten books.
Poetry, it is well known, used the vertical virgule to end the first line of an end-stopped couplet (payaar), and two vertical lines at the end of the second. For triplets or tripadis, each set of three used a space between the first and the second, and the first set was closed by a vertical line and the second by a pair of virgulae. These marks were not necessarily grammatical or rhetorical, but more often than not prosodic. Line divisions, however, were erratic and optional, even after the introduction of print. Punctuated prose appeared only with the coming of print, instances of earlier manuscript prose being rare except in letters and a few documents relating to property, court orders and land records.
In other highlights, Abu Jar Md Akkas will speak on the grammar and typography in early printed books. Bengali printing with moveable types came into being with the publication of Nathaniel Brassey Halhead’s A Grammar of the Bengal Language in 1778. But there have also been print specimens of Bengali alphabet or letters from blocks in at least six books before 1778.
Prachi Deshpande will speak on ‘Scribes, Scripts and Speed: Marathi Handwriting in the Age of Print’.
The story of Marathi’s encounter with print is a rich and complex one. The arrival of print in the early nineteenth century not only triggered the language’s standardisation, it also brought about significant changes in its grammar, the scripts used to write it, and practices of reading and writing. Existing scholarship has examined the emergence of new literary genres, newspapers, educational texts and pedagogies, a modern public sphere and its socio-political dimensions, and the twin influence of Sanskrit and English on this overall process of the modernization of Marathi since the nineteenth century in the age of print.
Scribal practices in Marathi had evolved over the medieval period in two scripts - Modi for bureaucratic, and Balbodh/Nagari for religiously oriented writing - and were shaped by diverse ideas about what constituted good writing, and good writers. These writerly discourses underwent complex changes in the age of print, towards fresh ideas about literacy, legibility and efficiency, and informed wider, persistent debates in Marathi language practices ranging from idiom, to orthography, to the elaboration of the language's very history. This handwritten 'underbelly' of the history of print, I will argue, is critical to understanding the trajectory of Marathi linguistic modernisation - and indeed, that of other languages in the subcontinent as well.
On the topic, ‘Autobiography of a Proofreader: An Intimate History of Print Culture in Odisha’, Jatin Nayak will focus on the autobiography of Krushnachandra Kar, who worked as a proofreader for a living in the first half of the twentieth century. He was associated with eminent editors of prestigious periodicals and established himself as an author and a lexicographer. Replete with interesting anecdotes, his autobiography reveals fascinating aspects of the evolving print culture in Odisha.
On the topic, ‘Visualising Print Worlds in Colonial North India’, Leigh Denault will focus on how an enduring problem in studying the historical circulation of texts and ideas is how to understand the life-worlds of print beyond the page: how texts were produced, distributed, and promoted; and how we assess readership, audience, and reception. In colonial South Asia, state-collected statistics on literacy and print can only ever give an incomplete picture of a ‘print public’ which was ‘literacy aware’ if not mass literate, and which blended multilingual and manuscript, oral, and print cultures. Attention to the construction of publics, paratexts, and ‘addressivity,’ has provided scholars with new methodologies to understand the ambiguous and experimental spaces of colonial print. As digitisation projects begin to make inroads into South Asian archives, historians have suggested that digital platforms might, by removing texts from ‘known’ and certain contexts, allow us to identify new connections and patterns.