Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Reading Palestine

Reading Palestine: Printing and Literacy, 1900-1948

Ami Ayalon
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Reading Palestine
    Book Description:

    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 inReading Palestine.

    Addressing an exciting aspect of Middle Eastern history as well as the power of the printed word itself,Reading Palestinedescribes 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 Palestineprovides crucial insight into the dynamic rise of literacy that revolutionized the way Palestinians navigated turbulent political waters.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79736-9
    Subjects: History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (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 several centuries. By the time Arab subjects of the Ottoman Empire began to lend ears to the voices coming from that continent, Europe had already developed a routine of enjoying the fruits of printing in endless ways. In certain parts of the Arab Ottoman region,...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Literacy and Education
    (pp. 16-42)

    “Culture in this country is dead!” the owner of the Jerusalem weeklyal-Munadiproclaimed 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 squabbling, he noted in dismay. This editor was not alone in his gloom. Many others voiced frustration with the country’s cultural realities at the outset of the twentieth century. “The readers shall know,” stated Raghib al-Khalidi, a prominent Jerusalem notable, “that two forces have a...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Texts: Imported, Produced, Viewed
    (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 press in Palestine until the last decade of the nineteenth century (with the exception of some small missionary shops), and hence no local production of books, journals, or public announcements. Manuscript texts had been kept in closed private...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Texts Accessed and Afforded
    (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 unknown whether there was such a place in Palestine itself). There were also roving dealers who moved between provinces and countries, hauling written treasures across the lands of Islam. Another...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Individual Reading
    (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?”

    And before I had a chance to guess, he added: “To learn how to read . . .”

    I said: “So,...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Collective Reading
    (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 functionally oral-aural Arab cultures.” He related the story of an Arab student of engineering who, though educated, was an illustrative “product of a verbo-motor society, an oral-aural personality.” When this man was faced with a challenge of building a bridge, Ong observed,

    Every fiber...

  10. Conclusion
    (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 and in the number of their readers, amounting to a real “reading mania”: education and literacy shot up; public and lending libraries, as well as the more elitist, private, reading societies, multiplied rapidly. Even the manufacturing of reading-related furniture, such...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 161-184)
  12. Sources
    (pp. 185-200)
  13. Index
    (pp. 201-208)