Introduction to Printing and Publishing Censors in the Ottoman State

As the printing life evolved in the Ottoman Empire, it was followed by regulations on printing. In a short while, laws concerning the printing press and printed works like books, journals and newspapers were introduced. The censors implemented for a closer inspection of this field and also the protection of the fundamental values of state against the printed vehicles of culture especially during the Hamidian Era have ignited heated disputes until the present times. On the other hand, the censors imposed on publications coming from abroad have been examined and brought up by the same disgraceful approach. Yet, this topic is excluded from the research. While the censors of a society constitute the most valuable documents of its social and intellectual structure, it is a great handicap of our historiography that they have not been evaluated from this perspective until recently. The nineteenth century was the scene to a harsh dichotomy in the Ottoman Empire in the sense that the state had to simultaneously adopt the two measures of both imitating the Western institutions and defending itself against the West. In the meantime, while the printing press was perceived and supported as a tool of reformation, its usage was also subject to regulations and its undesired usage was as such prevented. A closer analysis of this complicated situation is sure to unearth striking conclusions. The distinctive regulations of the press, on the one hand, and its enthusiastic encouragement on the other hand bear witness to the importance ascribed to the printing press. The development of institutions responsible for the inspection of printed material prior to and following the process such as Encümen-i Teftiş ve Muayene in paralel to the development of printing life can be evaluated within the natural course of events. The actual reasons why books imported from the West for political and literary reasons were prohibited, however, can be known only after a thorough analysis of their contents. It is evident that interpretations based on such research would be a major gain for our historiography. Another point to be emphasized in this context is that the Hamidian Era, traditionally depicted as catastrophic period for its printing censorship, did not in fact differ from either previous or later periods on a great scale.


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