The Machine in the Colony: Technology, Politics, and the Typography of Devanagari in the Early Years of Mechanization

In: Philological Encounters
Vaibhav Singh University of Reading

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The decades of the 1930s and 40s, in which India’s struggle against British rule gained momentum, also ushered in critical technological change in the way texts in many Indian languages were materially produced and represented in print. The foremost facilitators of this change were third parties precariously placed in the colonial equation. Focusing on the dilemmas and contradictions of one such concern, the New York-based Mergenthaler Linotype Company and its program for the Devanagari script, this essay examines the mechanics of the power struggle embodied in the process of technological and typographical change. Against the backdrop of India’s independence movement, in deeply contested territories of language and script, the examination of typographical networks that formulated and realized this project throws new light on the richly ambivalent ideological negotiations involved—between popular and academic aspirations, altruistic and commercial enterprises, communal agendas and nationalist politics, and between imperial administration and colonial subjects.

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