9.703 the idea of literacy?

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Mon, 8 Apr 1996 21:59:40 -0400 (EDT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 703.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: James O'Donnell <jod@ccat.sas.upenn.edu> (15)
Subject: "literacy"

For something I need to talk about shortly, I puzzle over the concept of
"literacy". There is an abundant history of the ancient and medieval and
early modern histories of literacy, but the specific word itself is first
attested only in the year 1883 (OED) and several related words show a
striking burst of energy in the early 1880s. This matches my sense that
"literacy" as the object of discourse (a learning to read and write that
may be widely disseminated) is more or less coterminous with our very
modern concern with mass education, an educated citizenry, etc. When I
rummage the library for studies of "literacy", however, I don't find this
caesura described or respected: all the historical studies start with
Cadmus and the Greeks and work their way forward. Can any enlightened
Humanist point to a good study of the modern history of the *concept* of

Jim O'Donnell
Classics, U. of Penn