Ulrike Stark

University of Chicago, USA


Making tracts attractive: missionary print in nineteenth-century rural India


Coinciding with the rise of Protestant missionary activity, the spread of print technology in nineteenth-century South Asia introduced the cheap, mass-produced book in Indian languages and led to a boom in religious printing. Despite the considerable body of work on Christian missionaries’ pioneering role in vernacular printing and their use of print for proselytizing, little attention has been paid to the impact of Christian tracts in the low-literacy environment of rural India. This talk examines how missionaries used the printed tract as both an object of transaction and a tool of conversion in their encounters with prospective converts in the Indian countryside. The talk explores how missionaries experimented with format, type, and design in their attempt to make tracts attractive to rural readers. In tracing the shifting status of the tract as gift and saleable object, I outline the challenges of the missionary print enterprise, while drawing attention to the material dimensions of the small-format book.


Ulrike Stark is Professor of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. Her research specializes in Hindi literature, South Asian book history and print culture studies, and North Indian intellectual history. She is the author of An empire of books: the Naval Kishore Press and the diffusion of the printed word in colonial India (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2007) and has written several articles on Hindi and Urdu print culture. She is currently completing a biography of the Indian educator and intellectual, Raja Sivaprasad ‘Sitara-e Hind’.