Sunday Book-Thought 18Posted: November 2, 2014
Literacy is not simply the ability to read, though it is partly that. It is a complex cultural phenomenon with powerful ideological implications, which vary depending on the time, place, and milieu one is looking at. So, for example, literacy amongst the early Christians is not exactly the same thing as the literacy of the late medieval universities. Thus if literacy is, on the one hand, an individual skill, it is also an historically contextualized mentality. Moreover, in any given society, the kinds of literacy acquired by different individuals vary greatly, from the non-reading peasant who witnesses a charter, to the merchant who keeps his account books and the noble woman who reads for edification and pleasure, to the university theology master. And any discussion of literacy must take into account the oral mode of communication which it complemented, substituted for, and often competed with.
– Charles F. Briggs