The Power of the Written Word: The Role of Literacy in the History of Western Civilization

The Power of the Written Word: The Role of Literacy in the History of Western Civilization

The Power of the Written Word: The Role of Literacy in the History of Western Civilization

The Power of the Written Word: The Role of Literacy in the History of Western Civilization

Excerpt

The theme of this book is the original impact and the continuing influence of literacy, especially Greek literacy and ideas, on the intellectual development of Western civilization from its beginnings to the present. My study explores the specific ways in which literacy and literature shaped concepts and modes of thought during the most creative periods in Western history. The concluding chapter is concerned with the present state and the future of literacy.

The World Literacy Drives of UNESCO and the concern with the decline in literacy in the U.S. and the U.K. have generated a great debate and a number of books on the subject of literacy.

On one side are studies which ascribe to literacy a major role in the cultural and material developments of the West. Since 1965 the United Nations have considered the propagation and expansion of literacy an essential prerequisite for economic development in the Third World and for the solutions of problems confronting the world as a whole.

On the opposite side are a number of sociologists and anthropologists who consider literacy an effect of cultural advance rather than a cause of it. Furthermore these writers see no advantage of literacy for those who have no immediate economic need for it.

This book is not intended as a comprehensive history of Western civilization. As my purpose is to show the specific interrelationships between advances in literacy and cultural developments, I have concentrated on those milestone periods in which the connection appears most clearly and which had the most lasting influence on the western world: The beginnings of civilization in the Near East and the Aegean; the Greek-Roman urban civilizations to which I have devoted the most space because of their continuing formative effects; the Renaissance; and (in the epilogue) to our own era.

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