The Writing Culture of Ordinary People in Europe, c.1860–1920

The Writing Culture of Ordinary People in Europe, c.1860–1920

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Martyn Lyons
Cambridge University Press, 10/11/2012
EAN 9781107018891, ISBN10: 1107018897

Hardcover, 292 pages, 22.8 x 15.2 x 2 cm
Language: English

As war and mass emigration across oceans increased the distances between ordinary people in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many of them, previously barely literate and unaccustomed to writing, began to communicate on paper. This fascinating account explores this surge of ordinary writing, how people met the new challenges of literacy and the importance of scribal culture to the history of individual experience in modern Europe. Focusing on correspondence and other writing genres produced by French and Italian soldiers in the trenches in the First World War, as well as Spanish emigrants to the Americas, the book reveals how these writings were influenced by dialect and oral speech and were oblivious to the rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation. Through their sometimes moving stories, we gain an insight into the importance to ordinary peasants of family, village and nation at a time of rapid social and cultural change.

1. Ordinary writings, extraordinary authors
2. Archives for an alternative history
3. 'Excuse my bad writing'
4. Literary temptations
5. France
transparency and disguise in the poilus' letters, 1914–18
6. France
national identity from below and the discovery of the 'lost provinces', 1914–19
7. Family, village and motherland in Italian soldiers' writing, 1915–18
8. Italian identities 'from below' and ordinary writings from the Trentino
9. Love, death, and writing on the Italian Front, 1915–18
10. Spain
emergency literacy and the nostalgia of exile, 1820s–1920s
11. Family strategy and individual identities in Spanish emigrants' letters
12. Order and disorder in the 'memory books'
13. Conclusions

Advance praise: 'All historians, regardless of their specialization, will find enthralling material in this pioneering study of the 'common writer'. For here we find people at the bottom of the social pyramid writing their own history, as they experienced it and described it.' Jonathan Rose, William R. Kenan Professor of History, Drew University