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Early Arabic Printing: Movable Type & Lithographs

A new exhibit in Sterling Memorial Library (across from the stack elevators) explores the history of printed Arabic books and the gradual introduction of the printing press and printing techniques in the Arab world. The first Arabic book printed using movable type was published in Fano, Italy in 1514, and presses supported by the Catholic Church subsequently printed books for the benefit of the Arabic speaking Christians in the Ottoman Empire. Over succeeding decades, religious and secular authorities in the Arab world sought to suppress presses over fears that printers might tamper with sacred religious texts or publish seditious literature. While presses were established in Aleppo (Syria) and Constantinople in the early years of the 18th century, it was only after Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798 that the printing using movable type was widely adopted in the Near East.

The books displayed in the exhibit are drawn from the University Library's Near East Collection. Many volumes were printed using movable type, while others were printed using lithography, a technique invented at the end of the 18th century. Lithography is based on the chemical repellence of oil and water. Designs or text are drawn or painted with greasy ink or crayons on specially prepared stone. The stone is moistened with water, which the stone accepts in areas not covered by the crayon. An oily ink, applied with a roller, adheres only to the drawing and is repelled by the wet parts of the stone. The print is then made by pressing paper against the inked area.

The exhibit is free and open to the public and will run until the end of June, 2009. For more information, contact Simon Samoeil, Curator of the Near East Collection.