Medieval Writing
Reading, Writing, Hearing, Speaking and Remembering
I have recently reached the stage in my life when I have grandchildren learning to read and write, and it is a source of fascination and despair to discover that the debates about the correct way to learn these skills seem to have changed not one jot since the previous generation set about the process. In fact, I'm not so sure that they have changed since I learned. Not only do educators seem to want to believe that there is one right way to teach literacy today, they seem to be unaware that in the past, reading and writing were not always conceptualised or carried out as they are today. A look at the relationship between readers and writers and the graphic signs that they used to communicate with in the medieval era reveals a complex world of interaction.
St Anne and Virgin
St Anne teaches the Vrigin to read in a late medieval sculpture in the tiny church of Fontaine-les-Dijon in Burgundy, France.
There are many recent and current studies on aspects of medieval literacy and relationships to text. Some good basic concepts can be acquired from Clanchy 1993, Petrucci 1995 and by a number of the essays by M.Parkes in Scribes Scripts and Readers London and Rio Grande: The Hambledon Press. The website Medieval Sourcebook: Accounts of Medieval Literacy and Education contains a set of pithy quotes from medieval writers on the subject.
There are different processes of reading, of writing and of being educated for literacy. These changed over the course of the middle ages as literacy expanded through a greater proportion of the community and served a wider range of functions in society. This very brief introduction to the subject will attempt to divide the whole literate process into its components, in order to examine in how many different ways people could be literate in the medieval era, and how they accomplished it.
Modes of Reading in the Middle Ages
The Practice of Writing in the Middle Ages
Reading and Remembering
Reading, Writing and Oral Transmission
Education for Literacy
The Concept of Literacy

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This site is created and maintained by Dr Dianne Tillotson, freelance researcher and compulsive multimedia and web author. Comments are welcome Material on this web site is copyright, but some parts more so than others. Please check here for copyright status and usage before you start making free with it. This page last modified 29/1/2006.