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Rediscovering the Islamic ClassicsHow Editors and Print Culture Transformed an Intellectual Tradition$
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Ahmed El Shamsy

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780691174563

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691174563.001.0001

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The Disappearing Books

The Disappearing Books

(p.8) Chapter 1 The Disappearing Books
Rediscovering the Islamic Classics

Ahmed El Shamsy

Princeton University Press

This chapter considers how Arabo-Islamic scholarship operated in the centuries before the adoption of print in the early nineteenth century, when books still had to be written and copied by hand. It is tempting to divide the history of Arabo-Islamic book culture into two simple stages, manuscript and print, each stage marked by distinct, uniform characteristics. But the chapter asserts that a range of factors, including economic and institutional constraints, scholarly trends, and basic assumptions about the nature of knowledge, modulate book culture in decisive ways. To understand why printing caught on in the Arabic-speaking world precisely when it did, and why it took the forms and had the consequences that it did, the chapter takes a look at the unique features of Islamic intellectual culture before the printing revolution, in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. The first and most basic feature of this culture relates to the availability, or lack thereof, of books.

Keywords:   Arabo-Islamic book culture, manuscript production, book production, Islamic intellectual culture, printing revolution, book drain, libraries

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