Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America (Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book)

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9781558495814: Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America (Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book)

An experienced teacher of reading and writing and an award-winning historian, E. Jennifer Monaghan brings to vibrant life the process of learning to read and write in colonial America. Ranging throughout the colonies from New Hampshire to Georgia, she examines the instruction of girls and boys, Native Americans and enslaved Africans, the privileged and the poor, revealing the sometimes wrenching impact of literacy acquisition on the lives of learners.

For the most part, religious motives underlay reading instruction in colonial America, while secular motives led to writing instruction. Monaghan illuminates the history of these activities through a series of deeply researched and readable case studies. An Anglican missionary battles mosquitoes and loneliness to teach the New York Mohawks to write in their own tongue. Puritan fathers model scriptural reading for their children as they struggle with bereavement. Boys in writing schools, preparing for careers in counting houses, wield their quill pens in the difficult task of mastering a "good hand." Benjamin Franklin learns how to compose essays with no teacher but himself. Young orphans in Georgia write precocious letters to their benefactor, George Whitefield, while schools in South Carolina teach enslaved black children to read but never to write.

As she tells these stories, Monaghan clears new pathways in the analysis of colonial literacy. She pioneers in exploring the implications of the separation of reading and writing instruction, a topic that still resonates in today's classrooms.

Monaghan argues that major improvements occurred in literacy instruction and acquisition after about 1750, visible in rising rates of signature literacy. Spelling books were widely adopted as they key text for teaching young children to read; prosperity, commercialism, and a parental urge for gentility aided writing instruction, benefiting girls in particular. And a gentler vision of childhood arose, portraying children as more malleable than sinful. It promoted and even commercialized a new kind of children's book designed to amuse instead of convert, laying the groundwork for the "reading revolution" of the new republic.

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From the Publisher:

A volume in the series Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book. Published in Association with American Antiquarian Society.

From the Back Cover:

"While much has been written on the history of literacy, the subject of learning to read and write during America’s Colonial era has not received in-depth treatment. Monaghan seeks to remedy that situation with this truly impressive treatise, which has been exhaustively researched over the last 20 years. Following a chronological progression from 1620 through 1776, Monaghan offers a comprehensive analysis of Colonial literacy instruction that ranges throughout the Colonies and covers a broad variety of demographic groups and educational settings. She describes the separate motives behind the teaching of reading (largely meant to facilitate religious education) and of writing (which had more practical and secular purposes). In a refreshingly readable style for such a scholarly work, Monaghan studies the relationships between rates of literacy and other measures of Colonial culture, making rich use of primary sources to offer accessible and enlightening case histories. Illustrated with contemporary portraits and writing samples, this volume will no doubt become indispensable to those studying the history of literacy education. While covering the past, it is relevant to current debates about literacy. Highly recommended."—"Library Journal"

"A book of extraordinary range, depth, and clarity. . . . 'Learning to Read and Write,' the only survey of its subject, is an essential text for historians of literacy, of gender, and of early America. Broad in scope and deep in research, it will inspire both within and beyond these fields."—New England Quarterly

"This thoroughly engaging book is rich in detail and innovative in approach. The real testament here is that at the end of 381 pages of text, readers are left longing for more."—William and Mary Quarterly

"A very important book. Its publication is reason for celebration. . . . Literacy specialists will especially be gratified, but all historians of early America will profit from this richly researched work by a scholar with an exceptionally deep grasp of both the primary sources and the secondary literature."—Journal of American History

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