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The Writing Culture of Ordinary People in Europe, c.1860-1920 Hardcover – 11 Oct 2012


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'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

'Martyn Lyons's new book is a rigorous, wide-ranging and deeply moving account of how ordinary people used correspondence to deal with the extraordinary events of emigration and war. It combines an authoritative grasp of comparative popular culture with a keen eye for the difficulties of expressing the most profound experiences of separation, loss and suffering.' D. M. Vincent, The Open University

'[Lyons] has a humane and sensitive approach to his subject matter.' The Times Literary Supplement

'Lyons' work participates in a new 'history from below': a history that takes seriously such documents as survive from the lives of the (mainly) rural poor, and, rather than subjecting them to an alien agenda, or deploring them as banal, values them as painstaking contributions to a complex 'family strategy' through which the priorities of home (household, farm, extended family, village, region and only rarely nation) compete with the pressures of self-individuation, self-invention, adaptation … a richly nuanced map of changing patterns of literacy.' Archives

'Lyons' take on history from below succeeds first and foremost in restoring individuality to the writers and texts he studies. His careful readings of specific passages show that even the weakest and least educated of these writers wrote with purpose and care. … a work that does future researchers a tremendous service in calling attention to these underexplored archives and that lays the groundwork for reading alternative sources alongside and in opposition to official narratives.' Nineteenth-Century French Studies

Book Description

As mass emigration and war increased the distances between ordinary people, many, previously barely literate and unaccustomed to writing, began to communicate on paper. This fascinating book explores the multiple connections between orality and literacy and the insights these can provide into the history of individual experience in modern Europe.

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