The Rise of Popular Literacy in Victorian England

The Rise of Popular Literacy in Victorian England
The Influence of Private Choice and Public Policy

David Mitch

368 pages
Ebook 2016 | ISBN 9781512807189 | Buy from De Gruyter $79.95 | €69.95 | £70.50
This book is available under special arrangement from our European publishing partner De Gruyter.
An Anniversary Collection volume

In early Victorian England, there was an intense debate about whether government involvement in the provision of popular elementary education was appropriate. Government did in the end become actively involved, first in the administration of schools and in the supervision of instruction, then in establishing and administering compulsory schooling laws. After a century of stagnation, literacy rates rose markedly.

While increasing government involvement would seem to provide the most obvious explanation for this rise, David F. Mitch seeks to demonstrate that, in fact, popular demand was also an important force behind the growth in literacy. Although previous studies have looked at public policy in detail, and although a few have considered popular demand. The Rise of Popular Literacy in Victorian England is the first book to bring together a detailed examination of the two sets of factors.

Mitch compares the relative importance of the rise of popular demand for literacy and the development of educational policy measures by the church and state as contributing factors that led to the rise of working class literacy during the Victorian period. He uses an economic-historical approach based on an examination of changes in the costs and benefits of acquiring literacy. Mitch considers the initial demand of the working classes for literacy and how much that demand grew. He also examines how literacy rates were influenced by the development of a national system of elementary school provision and by the establishment of compulsory schooling laws.

Mitch uses quantitative methods and evidence as well as more traditional historical sources such as government reports, employment ads, and contemporary literature. An important reference is a national sample of over 8,000 marriage certificates from the mid-Victorian period that provides information on the ability of brides and grooms to sign their names.

The Rise of Popular Literacy in Victorian England is a valuable text for students and scholars of British, economic, and labor history, history of literacy and education, and popular culture.

David F. Mitch is Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

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