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BY-NC-ND 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter 2022

Overlooked: The Role of Craft in the Adoption of Typography in the Muslim Middle East

From the book Manuscript and Print in the Islamic Tradition

  • Titus Nemeth


This article seeks to contribute a new perspective to the recently revived discourse about the beginning of printing with Arabic movable type in the Middle East. The historiography of Arabic print has only tangentially engaged with the visual qualities of texts, and when it has done so it often failed finding an approach that does justice to the appearance of documents. The fidelity of the typographic representation of the script, and questions related to craft, formal conventions, and the reading process, are barely addressed in scholarship of Arabic print history. Yet writing and print are visual media and cannot be fully understood without investigating their material properties. This paper therefore emphasises the materiality of typography and aspects of typographic craft and reminds us that print is foremost a trade which must fulfil certain requirements in order to thrive. The argument investigates Arabic typography for its fitness for purpose, juxtaposing economic factors, typographic considerations, and cultural aspects. Relating these elements to the reading process, this paper argues that formal criteria of typography are an overlooked explanation for the long disinterest of the Islamic world in typography

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