News & Events

Islamic Art and Culture Forum: Paper Before Print with Jonathan M. Bloom

Paper Before Print

Jonathan M. Bloom

Architecture Auditorium

Arch 204

Thursday, Apr O4



The history of the book has tended to focus on the crucial role of printing rather than on the materials on which books are printed, but paper itself played a pivotal role in the development and evolution of Islamic culture in the middle ages.  Paper had been invented in China in the centuries before Christ and was carried throughout Asia by Buddhist monks and missionaries.  After Muslims conquered Central Asia in the 8th century, paper quickly replaced parchment and papyrus as the favored writing material of the Abbasid bureaucracy centered in Baghdad. Paper mills spread across the Islamic lands, and by the year 1000 Muslims were making paper in cities from Central Asia to the Iberian Peninsula. Beginning in the 9th century the manufacture and availability of paper encouraged a flowering of Arabic literary culture, allowing the creation and transmission of books on all subjects ranging from astronomy to zoology and at all levels of society from the mosque and the court to popular tales. Craftsmen and artists eventually began to use paper as a medium for design and transmission as well, thereby transforming the visual culture of the medieval Islamic lands. This talk will show not only how paper transformed many aspects of Muslim culture but also how paper transformed European culture in similar ways after it was introduced there in the 11th century, long before printing was introduced in the mid-15th century.


Jonathan M. Bloom shares the Norma Jean Calderwood University Professorship of Islamic and Asian Art at Boston College and the Hamad bin Khalifa Endowed Chair of Islamic Art at Virginia Commonwealth University with his wife, Sheila Blair. He is the author, co-author, and editor of many books and hundreds of articles on all aspects of Islamic art and architecture, including the prize-winning Paper Before Print: the History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World (Yale University Press).