Medieval Urban Literacy: Questions and Possibilities

Medieval Urban Literacy: Questions and Possibilities

Mostert, Marco

Medieval Urban Literacy I, ed. Marco Mostert and Anna Adamska (Brepols, In Preparation)


An important topic in recent research on literacy is the growth of the so-called literate mentality. Different from other social scientists, such as, e.g. anthropologists, historians usually try to keep their distance from the fuzzy term ‘mentality’. Students of medieval literacy avoid exclusive definitions, and prefer to enumerate factors contributing to the development of ‘literate mentalities’. Among the most important factors are the realisation that, once writing has become an option in any medieval society, it is a ‘natural’ thing to preserve human actions through writing, and that written records can be used to reconstruct the past. Writing gradually becomes trusted as an instru- ment for fixing, and thereby defining, events. A quantitative factor is progress in alphabetisation: the spread of the elementary skills of reading and writing among ever more social groups. The development of literate mentalities can be measured by the growth (or decline) in the prestige of those individuals who can read and write.

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