Rise of Literacy

Catchpenny prints in The Netherlands

What did the people in the lower orders of society and children read in the 18th and 19th centuries? In the Netherlands, their main reading material was catchpenny prints.

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‘In the Album of a Girl’: a Dutch Poet Laureate writes a poem in an album amicorum

How would you like having a poem composed especially for your friendship album? This is what happened to Elizabeth Adriana Staats (1823-1896). 

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Chapbooks: the poor person’s reading material

Books were expensive in Scotland between the 17th and 19th centuries. But literacy was comparatively high, and people were keen on reading. There was a large market for cheap, easy-to-get reading material: so-called street literature because it was simply sold on the streets.

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Paul Du Chaillu: an Ethnologist in the Nordic Countries

The French explorer Paul Belloni Du Chaillu (1831-1903) reported on his travels in the lands of the midnight sun in his illustrated and well-documented account of life in Northern Europe. Also a seasoned explorer of Africa, in the 1870s Paul Du Chaillu changed track and travelled through the Nordic countries. He wrote several books about […]

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The Trailblazer: Jelena Dimitrijević, Serbia’s first feminist author

This is a story about a Serbian writer and traveller who chose to lead a very different life to the one expected of a woman born and raised in the patriarchal Serbian society of the 19th and early 20th century. Brave, educated and self-aware, this remarkable woman was a poetess, a novelist, and a writer […]

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Madame de Staël (1766-1817): from the Enlightenment to the Dawn of Romanticism

Writer, republican, literary theoretician and philosopher, Madame de Staël contributed to the diffusion of ideas in Europe through her travels and her Salon, where she received many European intellectuals.

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Camille Flammarion: Astronomy in all its Forms

Beginning his career by claiming that there is life on other planets, Camille Flammarion had by the end of the 19th century become one of the most famous astronomers on the planet! Passionate about astronomy, he contributed to making this field accessible to all.

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Lighting the Way: How Illuminated Initials Guided Medieval Readers through Books

Many medieval manuscripts are full of decorated capital letters that add colour to the page. They come in all styles and sizes, but what exactly are they and what was their purpose?

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The Sinking of the Titanic – a Historic Press Panorama

In the early morning of 15 April 1912, one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history occurred. RMS Titanic – which was considered unsinkable – was on her maiden voyage in the North Atlantic when she collided with an iceberg.

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The Place of Literature in the World of Newspapers

In France, the important development of including literature in the press began with the launch of ‘La Presse‘ in 1836 by Emile de Girardin. He cut the subscription rate to his daily newspaper in half by speculating on advertising to cover the costs. 

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Emile Zola: Novelist and Journalist

A true writer-journalist, Emile Zola successfully managed both activities for about 20 years, at first out of financial necessity before he became a successful author, but also by conviction.

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Europe’s First Printed Book

How do we know what Europe’s first printed book was? Until the 18th century this question was open to speculation.15th-century printed books usually have no title page and do not always give the printer’s name.

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A Path to Literacy – Role of the Catechism in Learning to Read

For Protestant and Catholic communities of the past, learning the basics of faith and the basics of reading went quite naturally hand in hand. But were all early catechisms necessarily intended as reading primers? Children’s Education: a Point of Contention between Catholics and Protestants For Europeans at the start of the Early Modern Period, knowledge […]

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Use of Propaganda in World War I Postcards

Millions of postcards circulated during the First World War and influenced public opinion. It is not surprising that something as ordinary as a postcard was used by governments on all sides to either defend their own actions, to discredit the enemy and to rouse the masses to support their nation.  Within just three days of […]

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Arthurian Literature: Foundation for a Common History in Europe

No literary figure has stood the test of time quite like King Arthur. His story has inspired people across Europe for centuries. King Arthur: a Legendary Figure The earliest reference to Arthur can be found in ‘The Book of Aneirin’. Originally composed in the 6th century, Aneirin’s poem ‘Y Gododdin’ discusses the battle of Catraeth […]

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The ‘Romance of the Rose’: A Medieval Guide to Love

This poem about living and loving in medieval courts was both very popular and controversial in the late Middle Ages and throughout the Renaissance. Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, ‘Le Roman de la Rose’ (Paris, 2nd quarter of the 14th century) Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Français 1572, f. 3r, No […]

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