History of the Book in India

Course Organiser: Mr Graham Shaw
26-30 June

This course aims to give students an introduction to the history of the book in India – both manuscript and printed – from the 1st century CE to the present day. It will also examine the interplay of manuscript and print with the transmission of text through orature and performance traditions.  It will highlight the influence of different faiths on manuscript production and illustration, and the impact of printing technologies (xylography and lithography as well as typography).  It will also cover some important strands in Indian publishing history such as the relationship between India and Britain in the colonial period, and issues facing contemporary publishing.

Course Outline


1 Orality, manuscript, print: their outline and interplay in South Asia.
2 Traditions of manuscript production.


3 The evolution of manuscript illustration.
4 Buddhism, xylography and Sanskrit.
5 Visit to the British Library to examine various types of manuscripts, including illustrated examples.


6 The prehistory of print to 1800.
7 Issues in educational publishing in the 19th century.
8 Visit to the School of Oriental and African Studies Library to examine some early printed books from India.


9 Books and empire: the case of South Asia.
10 The development of South Asian typography.
11 Missionary publishing: reception and reaction.


12 The development of newspaper and magazine publishing.
13 Publishing from independence to the present day.


Outcomes for Students

  • Received an overview of the history of the book in India from earliest times to the present day.
  • Developed an understanding of the relationships between orature, manuscript and print through India’s dynamic culture of many languages and religions.
  • Acquired a closer insight into “the book and Empire” through the important example of India.
  • Gained a better appreciation of global book culture through India’s interconnectedness with Europe and other parts of Asia.
  • Followed a course that is not offered by any other rare book school in Europe or North America.

Required Reading

Losty, Jeremiah Patrick.  The art of the book in India.  London: The British Library, 1982.
Orsini, Francesca ed.   The history of the book in South Asia.  Farnham: Ashgate, 2013. 
Gupta, Abhijit.  ‘The Indian subcontinent’, in Michael Suarez & Henry R. Woudhuysen (eds.), The book: a global history (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 553-572.
Shaw, Graham William. ‘South Asia’, in Simon Eliot & Jonathan Rose (ed.), A Companion to the history of the book (Blackwell Companions to Literature & Culture) (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), pp. 126-137.

Recommended Introductory Reading

Goswamy, B. N.  The word is sacred; sacred is the word: the Indian manuscript tradition.  New Delhi: Niyogi Books, 2006.
Bayly, Christopher A.  Empire and information: intelligence gathering and social communication in India, 1780-1870.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 
Chatterjee, Rimi Barnali.  Empires of the mind: a history of the Oxford University Press in India under the Raj.  New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Orsini, Francesca.  Pleasure and print: popular literature and entertaining fictions in colonial north India.  New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2009. 
Stark, Ulrike.  An empire of books: the Naval Kishore Press and the diffusion of the printed word in colonial India.  Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2007.
Venkatachalapathy, A. R.  The province of the book: scholars, scribes and scribblers in colonial Tamilnadu.  Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2012. 
Israel, Samuel.  Indian book publishing 1947-80.  New Delhi: Mosaic Books, 2000.


Graham Shaw retired from the British Library in December 2010 as Head of Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections which included, besides printed books and serials, significant archival holdings, both in the narrower sense of government records (the East India Company and India Office Records) and in the wider sense of manuscript and other special materials (Western and Asian-language manuscripts, paintings, prints, drawings and photographs, etc.).

After graduating in Hindi and Sanskrit from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, in 1969, he worked in the Library of the School as a South Asian Languages Cataloguer before joining the British Library in 1974. For the first ten years of his British Library career, he was Curator in charge of the North Indian language collections – Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, etc. - but then moved into a number of senior management positions.  In 1982 he was co-compiler of The Bibliography of South Asian periodicals and in 1985 co-editor of the British Library’s catalogue of Publications proscribed by the Government of India.

He is well-known nationally and internationally in the field of Asian studies librarianship, and continues to pursue his research into the history of the book in South Asia, on which he has published many book chapters and journal articles in addition to the full-length Printing in Calcutta to 1800 (1981) and The South Asia and Burma retrospective bibliography (SABREB) Stage 1: 1556-1800 (1987).