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Three Types of Asymmetry in the Muscovite Engagement with Print

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Muscovite awareness and use of printed books both predated and extended beyond the scope of native Muscovite printing. The three types of “asymmetry” explored in this survey relate to the wider reception of print in Muscovy. The first and most widely noted is the chronological and cultural mismatch between the spread of print culture in Russia and in Western Europe. The second is the differential chronology and repertoire of local print production by comparison with the use of imported printed materials. The third – the main focus of the survey – is the phenomenon of “reverse technology transfer,” whereby West European printed materials were appropriated into manuscript culture in Muscovy. Examples are adduced from diverse and unrelated fields: medical knowledge, newspapers, and biblical illustration. Taken together, these patterns of asymmetry not only pose a challenge to “techno-determinist” approaches to the history of writing and print, but reflect a distinctive ecology of media, a distinctive set of cultural filters in the translation of print to Muscovy.

Affiliations: 1: University of Cambridge


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