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Ordinary Writings, Personal Narratives

Writing Practices in 19th and early 20th-century Europe

Martyn Lyons

Historians have often assumed that the lives of the poor and illiterate can never be known because they have left little written record of their existence. The voices of the uneducated are there, however, and their written traces can be deciphered, if we take the trouble to look for them. This book will establish some of the main themes and frontiers of a new field of historical study: that of ‘ordinary writings’, (or écritures ordinaries) – the improvised and often ephemeral writings of the poor, the young and the hitherto silent people of history.
This collection of new studies from France, Belgium, Finland, Spain, Iceland, Greece, Italy and Britain has a coherent focus on the transition to writing literacy in 19th and 20th century Europe. The overall theme is the access of ordinary people to writing, examined in the concrete forms which writing took and the specific functions which it performed. The uses of writing, and the cultural practices in which they were embedded, are explained in their context of social and political relations, gender relations and relations between the literate and the illiterate.
Contents: Martyn Lyons: ‘Ordinary Writings’ or How the ‘Illiterate’ Speak to Historians – Nicolas Adell-Gombert: Total Writing: The Writing Practices of Compagnons on the Tour de France – Kaisa Kauranen: Did Writing Lead to Social Mobility? Case Studies of Ordinary Writers in Nineteenth-Century Finland – Maarten Van Ginderachter: ‘If your Majesty would only send me a little money to help buy an elephant’: Letters to the Belgian Royal Family (1880-1940) – Christophe Pons: The Mystical and the Modern: The Uses of Ordinary Writings in Identity Construction by Icelandic Spiritual Mediums – Nigel Hall/Julia Gillen: Purchasing Pre-packed Words: Complaint and Reproach in Early British Postcards – Sally Cove: Ordinary Writings, Secretive Writing Practices: Social Transgression and the YIVO Autobiographies – Antonio Castillo Gómez/Verónica Sierra Blas: ‘If my pen was as good as your pistol’: The Acquisition and Uses of Writing on the Republican Fronts during the Spanish Civil War – Anne Wingenter: Voices of Sacrifice: Letters to Mussolini and Ordinary Writing under Fascism – Krystallia Makatou: Ordinary Writing in Greece: Young People’s Diaries – Marie-Claude Penloup: Literary Temptations and Leisure-time Copying: Spontaneous Adolescent Writing in Contemporary France.