The Progress of Literacy

Vincent, D.M. (2003). The Progress of Literacy. Victorian Studies, 45(3) pp. 405–431.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/vic.2003.0141

URL: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/iup/vs/2003/...

Abstract

Literacy is inextricably linked to notions of progress. Its measurement in the nineteenth century was a means by which societies began to calibrate their advance, and in developed as well as developing countries command of the basic skills of written communication is still seen as central to economic growth. 1 As a subject of historical study on the other hand, literacy as a narrative of progress has fallen into disrepute. The confident association of rising graphs of signatures and increasing modernization is no longer tenable. There is growing doubt about the value of quantitative evidence, and about the binary oppositions that have informed its analysis. This paper takes as a case history the creation of the Universal Postal Union and the work of its bureaucracy. 2 It examines the ambitions and achievements of the organization as a means of reviewing the trajectory of research into literacy and the theoretical and methodological agenda for the next generation of historical studies.

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