Schooling and Literacy

Paul Grendler

in Renaissance and Reformation

ISBN: 9780195399301
Published online May 2010 | | DOI:
Schooling and Literacy


The study of schooling, defined as preuniversity education, in the Renaissance and Reformation era is old and new. Historians have long been aware of the high value that Renaissance pedagogical theorists, political leaders, and clergymen placed on educating the young properly. From the late 19th century onward, local historians have produced valuable monographs on the schools in their own cities, towns, and villages, often without connecting their research to a larger context. Historians also analyzed humanistic pedagogical treatises and assumed that students acquired rhetorical skills and moral wisdom by reading the classics. Protestant theologians and Catholic religious orders believed that students learned Christian truth in the schools that they organized, and historians generally took them at their word. Only in the past few decades have historians made a determined effort to find out what really happened. They have asked practical questions as, what kinds of schools existed? How many boys and girls attended them? What did they learn? Such questions and answers have animated, broadened, and renewed the study of schooling. At present most historiography focuses on two areas. The first is institutional research: that is, studying the organization of schooling. What kinds of schools did state, town, religious order, family, or private teacher establish, and who attended them? When enrollment figures and census information is available, scholars can make estimates about the literacy of the population and formulate hypotheses about the educational levels of society. The other focus of research is the content of schooling: What did teachers teach and students learn? This involves analysis of the textbooks and much else. Of course, institutional and intellectual investigations are two halves of a whole and should not be separated. What follows is a select bibliography, most of it recent, on schooling and literacy in the Renaissance and Reformation era, defined as beginning in Italy about 1350, and in northern Europe about 1450, and lasting to about 1648.

Article.  10405 words. 

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