MAPPING BEIRUT PRINT CULTURE

The Mapping Beirut Print Culture (MBPC) project arose from a spatial humanities seminar offered at the Department of English at the American University of Beirut. It explores the spatio-temporal dimension of print culture in the capital city Beirut going back about a century.  There is an old adage that some attribute to Taha Hussein, “القاهره تكتب و بيروت تطبع و بغداد تقرأ [Cairo writes, Beirut publishes, Baghdad reads].”  Certainly, printing and publishing make up a large part of the Lebanon’s historical role in the region.  But there is much more to local print culture….

The MBPC project takes some of its inspiration from the recent map of publishing and book selling in Cairo, but engages with “deep/thick mapping.”  It is also inspired by spatial narratives of cultural spaces, akin to this one about vinyl record stores in Paris.  Our project attempts to engage with the plethora of spaces and actors of print culture in the Lebanese capital, including bookstores and publishers, but also public libraries, café-bookstores, kiosks, stationery stores–any place that print is found, sold, displayed and consumed.

The MBPC project team has painstakingly extracted data from archival materials and maps, interviewed local booksellers and publishers, and surveyed our urban environment for existing and bygone sites of print culture.  We have no doubt missed quite a bit!  By mapping such a landscape, we are encouraging the public to think about issues pertinent to urban life in the Arab World today: gentrification, the commercialization of cultural spaces, the rise of electronic publishing.