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The growth of public literacy in eighteenth-century England

Cowan, Steven (2012) The growth of public literacy in eighteenth-century England. PhD thesis, Institute of Education, University of London.

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Abstract

This thesis investigates the extent to which the acquisition of literacy during the eighteenth century arose independently of and thus separately from formal schooling. It further examines what counted as 'literacy' during the eighteenth century and how it was connected to orate forms of communication and expression. The thesis uses a wide variety of sources in order to demonstrate that there is scope for extending the historiography of literacy and communicative practice during the eighteenth century. It is argued that recent developments in digitized data-bases have opened up new opportunities for further research. The thesis argues that literacy was spread more broadly both geographically and socially in eighteenth century England than is often recognized. The thesis begins by setting public literacy in its broader social and historical contexts. The term 'public' is used because throughout the thesis literacy is viewed as a social act of communication and as a set of social practices. This view is rooted in two distinct critical traditions. One derives from the American historians Bailyn and Cremin who argued that understanding education required relocating learning into wider social setting. The other derives from the new literacies movement which seeks to understand literacies as complex social phenomena rather than as simple acquired basic skills. There is a focus throughout upon the social and cultural settings that gave rise to a distinctively educated public during the eighteenth century which, by the close of the century, had started to spread into and across all social classes. The three empirically based chapters develop this theme and show how certain public and social contexts offered opportunities for both individuals and groups to engage in a range of literacy practices. Through a study of the way that communications were structured in coffee houses the thesis reveals the profoundly educative impact that these institutions had particularly in the earlier decades but also, continuously across the century. Following this, and through a study of interlinking biographies of self-taught men who made their mark upon the society, it is shown that many commoners managed to acquire degrees of learning other than through formal instruction. Finally, there is a focus upon the emergence of an independent and authentic set of literacy practices among common readers during the later part of the century, a movement that helped to shape future of broad working class organizations in the following century and one which at times was perceived by the state to be tantamount to treasonable practice.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: Thesis: (PhD) University of London Institute of Education, 2012.
Depositing User: Batch Import
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2014 10:56
Last Modified: 22 Jun 2016 14:28
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