This interdisciplinary project seeks to contribute to the study of the social history of literacy in the Nordic countries, focusing on the roles played by the written word in the everyday lives of ordinary people during “the long nineteenth century” (roughly from the French Revolution to the First World War). By “literacy” is meant not just the ability to read and write but rather the totality of the processes and practices involved in the production, dissemination and reception of written texts, while the perspective “from below” indicates that the focus is on non-privileged people, their experiences and points of view.
Studying the literacy practices of ordinary people, i.e. those with little or no formal education from the lower strata of society, will necessarily challenge traditional dichotomies such as manuscript vs. print, oral vs. written and centre vs. periphery. This “from below” perspective also challenges the ways in which the processes of literacy education, acquisition and appropriation have previously been understood, and will thus call for a revision of Nordic cultural and social history. The project will attend to aspects which have hitherto been largely marginalised in relation to official culture, focusing on texts written and read by self-educated people.
This project has grown out of the experiences gained in the NOS-HS-funded explorative workshops The common people and the processes of literacy in the Nordic countries: Excursions to the scribal and print cultures in the 18th and 19th centuries. In all, 23 participants from all the Nordic countries took part in the workshops held in Finland (June 2009) and Denmark (December 2009).
This project grows out of the experiences gained in the NOS-HS-funded explorative workshops The common people and the processes of literacy in the Nordic countries: Excursions to the scribal and print cultures in the 18th and 19th centuries. In all, 23 participants from all the Nordic countries took part in the workshops held in Finland (June 2009) and Denmark (December 2009).
Although our research focuses on specific historical contexts, comparable developments are currently taking place within linguistic communities which are in the process of constructing their own cultures of literacy, and our project is thus of potential relevance to these emerging literate cultures, not least in examining the processes of knowledge acquisition on a grassroots level and their significance for democracy. There is also an interesting parallel between developments in the 19th century and the contemporary literacy practices which the current revolution in information technology has brought about in the lives of ordinary people.
Nordic societies underwent enormous changes in the period under examination, experiencing a rapid rise to welfare, and there is today a strong emphasis on education and respect for literary expression in Nordic culture. Research into these developments will enhance the understanding and appreciation of present-day people of the experiences of their forebears, while the writings of ordinary people which lie hidden in archives and private collections are often gems in themselves.