- Hardcover: 280 pages
- Publisher: Longman Group United Kingdom (March 1989)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0582030803
- ISBN-13: 978-0582030800
- Shipping Weight: 15.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1 customer review)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,634,483 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Literacy in Early Modern Europe: Culture and Education, 1500-1800
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Julius Caesar could read and write. The Roman empire was ruled by written messages. The Roman school system taught those destined for careers in government or as army officers. Decline of the empire left vestiges of Latin throughout. During the time of barbarians the Church assumed the remnants. Schools were needed to train priests and church officials. The church presumably expanded Latin studies into Eastern Europe beyond the Roman areas. The first university, University of Bologna, founded in Italy in 1088, was soon followed by Oxford in 1098. Universities became numerous in the thirteenth century. Liberal arts, Roman law and/or Canon law, medicine, and theology were the usual departments.
The methods used by Roman schools were adapted by Martianus Capella in the fifth century AD to what became the classical liberal arts education. It consisted of the Latin trivium, i.e., grammar, logic, and rhetoric, followed by the quadrivium: geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music. These were the seven liberal arts of the medieval university system.
The next major player was Charlemagne, who in abt 800 AD undertook intellectual revival, sometimes called the Carolingian Renaissance. Classical Latin used by upper class Romans had degraded to regional dialects of "vulgar Latin" under the influence of soldiers and merchants. Charlemagne reestablished classical Latin as the standard of Europe. This is the Latin used by medieval Europe.
Education was mostly for the wealthy, but orphan schools were formed early on to teach job skills. Teaching the poor was a charity activity. Christian doctrine schools taught basic reading and writing beginning in Italy in the sixteenth century. These schools typically met for two hours on Sundays. Education of girls was rare but some were taught reading, religion and practical skills. Academies functioning as finishing schools for girls were available. Secondary schools were rare but some taught the trivium.
The Jesuits were major factors in secondary schools and colleges throughout Catholic Europe beginning in abt 1560. Boys were rigorously trained in classical studies and theology.
The transition from Latin to modern language was gradual. A study found 84% of farming and agriculture publications in modern languages in the sixteenth century. By about 1700 court decisions used modern languages in Austria and France. Schools in Scotland, England, and Denmark also adopted modern languages.
Literacy became universal by abt 1600. A study by Lawrence Stone labeled the period 1540-1640 the education revolution. He found a large increase in the number of schools in the period. Government programs followed. Compulsory school attendance for children aged 5 to 12 was ordered in Prussia in 1717.
Houston devotes a chapter to the impact of the printing press, but notes that Elizabeth Eisenstein has published extensively on the subject. Printing did make books and printed tracts available widely, promoting the discussion of ideas. Houston argues that the impact of printing came about in the context of the times. The printing press, the Reformation, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment all were factors in the change in attitudes toward knowledge and learning. Both Luther and Calvin saw the Bible as the sole source of truth, and encouraged reading.
The bottom line is that literacy dates back to the Romans and was probably wider spread than previously appreciated. Writing was in Latin until the middle ages when modern languages were gradually adopted. Literacy is thought to be near universal in Europe by the 16th century. Education of children became mandatory in 1717 in Prussia, but the poor who could not afford school fees were omitted. Literacy has always been an indicator of wealth and class.
Houston gives us a detailed study of literacy in Europe citing numerous academic studies of the various aspects. The volume is scholarly; all data are treated with equal weight. The details are there, but the reader is left to dig out significance. Bibliography. Index.