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Literacy and Written Culture in Early Modern Central Europe


István György Tóth (1956–2005) was Associate Professor of History at the Central European University, Budapest and Senior Research Fellow at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

This unequalled volume’s key value is to place Hungary on the map of European literacy rates over the whole period between the initial stimuli of Renaissance and Reformation and the developed, state-organized educational systems of the (later) nineteenth century.

Suitable for academics across a wide range of subject areas, Tóth’s work is a broad international comparative analysis, concentrating on the long-term development of literacy rates and the use of written and oral culture in early modern societies. Tóth also examines the social history of elementary schools and its teachers, and book reading among peasants and noblemen throughout the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries in Hungary.

Literacy and Written Culture includes references to the development of libraries during the period and on the use of different languages – of particular importance is an examination of Latin usage. This volume is an extremely lively and stimulating guide providing fascinating insights into village life, legal and administrative issues and the role of the clergy. Its overall content contributes to major debates in the fields of language, literacy, linguistics and social history.

"This book is a model study of scrupulous rigor in its numerically minded social analysis, of challenging methodological innovation in its approach to the problem, and of marvelous insight into the social and cultural meaning of early modern literacy and illiteracy." - American Historical Review

"...offers a fascinating view of trends in literacy in Hungary in, basically, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but with some earlier material on the aristocracy and some later information on the peasants." - Slavic Review

"This book's great strength lies in careful analysis of rich archival evidence, impressively
documented in footnotes..." - Libraries & Culture

"...a very well documented work, with abundant maps, tables." - Ungarn - Jahrbuch, Zeitschrift für interdisziplinäre Hungarologie

"The present work was first published in Hungarian in 1996 ... It is now published by CEU Press in not only flawless English but also under a quite different and rather more earnest title... may serve as an excellent introduction not only to the study of Hungarian literacy but also to the social history of the early modern period." - Slavonic and East European Review

"István Tóth is fully versed in the literature and provides a model of sensitive analysis and interpretation of the place of the written word in central European culture, from the peasantry on up tthrough the landed gentry and various levels of nobility... the depth of research, the felicity of the prose, the picaresque anecdotes, and the many insights into the nature of early-modern central European cultural and intellectual life should be enough to interest most scholars of the place and period in this book." - Journal of Modern History

"The author successfully combines quantitative research together with qualitative study of the place of reading among different social groups and by doing so, provides extremely valuable insights into religious life in different social groups.... The book is well translated and it has an index. The quantitative data does not disturb the flow of the description, and the colorful descriptions the author cited make this a very enjoyable read." - Religious Studies Review

"This work should definitely finds its way into libraries and seminars examining written culture in early modern Europe. It is the first of such significance on the subject for a relatively poorly examined part of Central Europe." - Seventeenth-Century News


Introduction. Part 1: Door to the world of writing: the social history of elementary schools Part 2: The written word is gaining ground slowly in the peasant culture Part 3: Writing and reading capacities of the nobility Part 4: The lower layer of nobility: the petty nobleman living in an oral world Part 5: The culture of well-to-do noblemen: libraries and their proprietors Part 6: Outlook in space and time Conclusions

200 pages
ISBN 978-963-9116-85-6 cloth $49.95 / €42.95 / £35.00
ISBN 978-963-9241-30-5 paperback $27.95 / €25.95 / £23.99