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Reading Palestine

Printing and Literacy, 1900-1948

By Ami Ayalon

Publication Year: 2004

Prior to the twentieth century, Arab society in Palestine was predominantly illiterate, with most social and political activities conducted through oral communication. There were no printing presses, no book or periodical production, and no written signs in public places. But a groundswell of change rapidly raised the region’s literacy rates, a fascinating transformation explored for the first time in Reading Palestine. Addressing an exciting aspect of Middle Eastern history as well as the power of the printed word itself, Reading Palestine describes how this hurried process intensified the role of literacy in every sphere of community life. Ami Ayalon examines Palestine’s development of a modern educational system in conjunction with the emergence of a print industry, libraries and reading clubs, and the impact of print media on urban and rural populations. Drawn from extensive archival sources, official reports, autobiographies, and a rich trove of early Palestinian journalism, Reading Palestine provides crucial insight into the dynamic rise of literacy that revolutionized the way Palestinians navigated turbulent political waters.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vi-vii

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pp. ix-xii

Did the invention of printing mark the beginning of a “revolution”? If so, has it been properly acknowledged as such? Scholars passionately debate these questions. But even those who feel uncomfortable with the label for one reason or another do not dispute the immense historic importance of the new device. Indeed, it is hard to think of any aspect of human existence...

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pp. 1-15

The tale of written texts and their use in twentieth-century Palestine is one of spectacular change. Like an engine shifting from first gear straight to fourth, Palestinian society moved within a brief historic moment from near-complete illiteracy to massive reliance on the written word. In Europe, popular consumption of printed products had evolved gradually over...

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c h a p t e r 1. Literacy and Education

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pp. 16-42

“Culture in this country is dead!” the owner of the Jerusalem weekly al-Munadi proclaimed in 1912. In an intensely pessimistic editorial, he depicted a dismal state of affairs in Palestine. Having abandoned science and learning, people had sunk in ignorance bordering on unbelief, indeed in unbelief itself. Nothing concerns them but vain talk and senseless squab-...

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c h a p t e r 2. Texts: Imported, Produced, Viewed

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pp. 43-78

Texts of every kind were in lively circulation in the Palestine of 1948. They changed hands in libraries and bookstores, enriched private collections, enlightened pupils in urban and rural classrooms, and pervaded the public domain in large towns and small, in endless shapes. Half a century earlier, hardly any of that could be seen in the country. There had been no printing...

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c h a p t e r 3. Texts Accessed and Afforded

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pp. 79-108

Until the late nineteenth century, an educated Arab who wanted to acquire a book could do so in one of several ways. He could approach a book dealer, if one was to be found in his own town or nearby, who would sell him the desired item or find it for him. Certain cities in the region had book markets with clusters of shops trading in written texts (it is un-...

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c h a p t e r 4. Individual Reading

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pp. 109-130

Musa the stonecutter was a simple, illiterate manual laborer in Bethlehem of the early 1930s. Highly curious about political matters, he was eager to acquire reading skills, the key to a world of news and views. He eventually found the way, enlisting a high school student as his tutor. The boy, later a celebrated novelist, tells us Musa’s fascinating story: He said to me one day: “Do you know . . . what the wish of my life is?”

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c h a p t e r 5. Collective Reading

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pp. 131-153

Arabic-speaking societies and Third World communities in general have sometimes been portrayed as typically “oral.” The tag is intended to distinguish them from societies in the West, whose culture, especially in modern times, has been characterized as “literacy” oriented. Thus Walter Ong, once a guru of “orality and literacy” theories, spoke in 1967 of “the still function...

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pp. 154-160

“Was there a reading revolution at the end of the eighteenth century?” the German historian Reinhard Wittmann has recently asked, his concern focusing on western Europe. Wittmann’s probe into the matter has yielded findings that have led him to reply in the affirmative. During the half century before 1800, there was a dramatic rise in the scope of book production...


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pp. 161-184


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pp. 185-200


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pp. 201-207

E-ISBN-13: 9780292797369
E-ISBN-10: 0292797362
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292705791
Print-ISBN-10: 0292705794

Page Count: 221
Illustrations: 9 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2004