The thesis of backwardness holds a signifant place in the Euro-centric progressivist history-writing. A main pillar of the thesis has been the question of the printing press in Ottoman history. Based on the Ottoman archival records and the contemporary European literature, this article attempts to question its central assertion that the European civilization advanced through the spread of the print whereas the others lagged behind in the lack of the print.
The article starts with a discussion of the spread of printing in Europe, the increase in literacy, the factors behind the transition from oral culture to print culture, and the Ottoman awareness on this European progress. As a consequence of these developments, starting from the second half of the XVIIth century, newspapers became an essential source of intelligence on political and commercial affairs while they gradually became a constant source of information for Ottoman policymakers in the XVIIIth century. The urgent nature of foreign and domestic issues in this century transformed European newsletters into a means of intelligence gathering.
The treaty of Karlowitz ended the longlasting conquest policy and shifted the focus from the battlefields to the diplomatic arena. This study demonstrates that the Ottoman policymakers began to diversify their sources of information to keep pace with ever changing European politics in order
to stand firm in diplomatic negotiations. Thus, they scrutinized European newspapers on a regular basis. Finally, this study argues for the existence of a fundamental difference in mentality between the Ottomans and Europeans rather than making a case for Ottoman ignorance. Based on Ottoman
documents, it attempts to survey the way in which Ottoman policymakers made sense of a novelty and argue that while the process had its own ebbs and flows, it resists any simplification based on the dichotomy of progression vs. backwardness.