9.716 literacy

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Fri, 12 Apr 1996 08:42:26 -0400 (EDT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 716.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Ronald Tetreault <tetro@is.dal.ca> (25)
Subject: Re: 9.712 literacy

On Wed, 10 Apr 1996, Humanist wrote:

> There seems to be lots of
> evidence that England and the United States had relatively high rates of
> literacy. There are too many stories of people plowing in the fields reading
> Descartes, Hume, and Paine.

There's considerable anecdotal evidence that literacy was high among what
were quaintly called "the lower orders" in the early nineteenth century.
Reading of literary, philosophical, and political works was especially
widespread among the so-called contemplative workers such as shoe-makers
and weavers. Because these folks pursued a sedentary occupation, often
in groups, there were able to read and discuss what they read at their
workplaces. A good example is Samuel Bamford, whose *Autobiography*
(originally published in the 1840s in two parts, *Passages in the Life of
a Radical* and *Early Days*) gives a detailed picture of a reasonably
typical working-class person's reading habits around 1800.

A more modern treatment of similar themes may be found in Richard
Hoggart's *The Uses of Literacy: aspects of working-class life with
special reference to publications and entertainments*, published in 1957.


Ronald Tetreault Halifax, Nova Scotia
Department of English B3H 3J5 CANADA
Dalhousie University tel: (902) 494-3494
e-mail: tetro@is.dal.ca "learning by the (cyber)sea"