Johnson and Parker 2009

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Rosalind Thomas, "Writing, Reading, Public and Private 'Literacies'"

literacy not as "independent, separable skill" but "more as an embedded activity -- or to see a tension between the social context and the potentialities of writing" (14)

banking literacy; lists of debts

name literacy; had to be able to write name of person wanted ostracized (on ostraka); ostraka seem to have been preprepared; earlier days of the democracy, some had enough literacy to slowly produce their own ostracon, but laster illiterate left more and more excluded from governance

"The 'democratic minimum' for an Athenian citizen in courts or assembly, however, could have remained the ability to read or write little more than names." (24)

commercial literacy; lead letters, many of them "crisis letters"; commercial traders would have needed a degree of literacy (28)

list literacy; strange Kerameikos ostrakon, list with punctuation; purpose is uncertain to us; many lists made in Athens: the guilty, those given amnesty, deserters, etc.; lists of people, property, tribute contributions (33); do these incriptions constitute authoritative text? relationship to archive texts? symbolic, or referential? widely read? (33)

dedications, dedicatory inscriptions

name literacy and list literacy probably "functional" literacies for particular forms of Athenian democracy (36)

officials' literacy: needed a degree of all of the above (40-2)

Greg Woolf, "Literacy or Literacies in Rome?" (46-68)

writing widespread throughout Roman empire; "Writing articulated the complex economic and administrative systems on which the empire, its cities, and their inhabitatns dependent. The roman empire, and its societies, could not have functioned without it." (46)

"Roman literacies were much more closely connected -- much more joined up -- than in many other premodern societies." (47)

writing often seen as tied to states, domination, power; however most powerful in ancient societies often not those in greatest command of texts (depended on scribes) (47) -- analogy to software engineers today?

"it seems very likely that in ancient Rome, empire learned how to use writing from private individuals, rather than the other way around" (51)

  • generalized literacy
  • power of generalized literacy "most widely felt beyond the narrow realm of administration" (53)

most Roman texts short; readers had to bring knowledge to them

case study of Roman Britain:

  • smallest number of inscriptions from actions of the state (lapidary epigraphy, milestones)
  • then texts/numbers integral to manufactured objects; gaming tokens, coins
  • larger group of marks generated in making/transportation/retailing of objects; stamps on tiles (instrumentum domesticum)
  • large group of short texts on portable objects, not integral to objects' use

objects often declare their subject before one word is read -- shape of objects itself becomes a kind of "formatting" (57) (shows interesting gap in Olson's view of literacy)

labels on wine, olive oil amphorae -- show increasing standardization in positioning of label and contents (58)

also parallel expansion in marking objects with individual names of persons -- way of inscribing oneself in an increasingly anonymized, standardized textual milieu? (60)

record-making was ubiquitous; puzzling, then, that Roman archives are so haphazard (62) -- records of ancient decisions or actions could be found in private archives of families with consular or censorial ancestors (63)

documentary rather than archival mentality

"strong case can be made that the documentary explosion of official texts in rome durin gthe last 2 cen BCE represents an appropriation, for the needs of the state, of writing practices developed first of all to suit the private needs of its citizens" (64)

Shirley Werner, "Literacy Studies in Classics: The Last Twenty Years"

useful overview and bibliography of scholarship on orality and literacy in the ancient world