Book Series Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy , vol. 11

The Social Consequences of Literacy in Medieval Scandinavia

Arnved Nedkvitne

  • Pages: 279 p.
  • Size:160 x 240 mm
  • Illustrations:40 b/w
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2005

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  • ISBN: 978-2-503-51450-5
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  • ISBN: 978-2-503-55992-6
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Summary

Between 1000 and 1536 Scandinavia was transformed from a conglomerate of largely pre-state societies to societies with state governments. The state increasingly monopolised ‘legitimate’ violence. Church and state used literacy to strengthen social control in central and important areas: jurisdiction, religion and accounting. Written laws made social norms more precise and easier to change, a necessity in an increasingly complex society. The basic social transformations of the period cannot be attributed to increasing literacy alone, but the written word rendered them more peaceful and gradual, and strengthened social conformity and cohesion. Writing in Roman letters was introduced late to Scandinavia (ca. 1000 ad); consequently the transition from orality to literacy is better documented than in many other European societies. The rich saga literature from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries emerged at the time that administrative literacy was introduced. Until the fourteenth century, literacy was mainly promoted by church and state in their efforts to pacify and control society. Then the literate elites grew, encompassing ever larger groups of officials, clerks, merchants and artisans, many of whom were now educated in town schools. The resulting elite culture prepared the ground for the development of a proto-national identity.