This year’s Book History Graduate Essay Award goes to Kathryn A. Schwartz, for her essay titled “Did Ottoman Sultans Ban Print?” The entire field of the history of the book in the Ottoman Empire rests on a deeply-rooted and longstanding fallacy, that is, the idea that Ottoman sultans at some point in the fifteenth or sixteenth century ‘banned’ print. In this article, Schwartz provocatively and convincingly argues that the accepted interpretation of an ordinance banning print has no documentary basis. Her careful and informed analysis of the historiography helps to chart the processes through which an idea without sources has been perpetuated in scholarly and mainstream histories. But she doesn’t just challenge the veracity of this claim, which has become accepted through repetition to the status of fact, she also challenges the thinking behind such a claim. Schwartz argues that most accounts of the history of printing in the Ottoman Empire are based on a European perspective, comparing ‘progress’ in the art of printing in European countries with an apparent ‘delay’ in printing in the Ottoman world. There were crucial nationalist and political reasons why twentieth-century Turks and Arabs were persuaded to accept claims about the previous Ottoman rulers. In this way, the author reveals with great precision just how the study of the history of printing served a particular, nationalist purpose in the modern Middle East.
The co-editors found the paper ambitious, thoroughly researched, and highly original.