Document-based question (DBQ) “Levels of Literacy” (60 minutes, 1,000 words minimum)
Task: Describe the variations in the levels of literacy in Old Regime France and trace these variations over time. Analyze the factors that promoted or discouraged the spread of literacy.
Analysis of fourteen documents for the DBQ “Literacy in France” essay question:
Document # 1:
Document # 1 was a comparison of the degree of literacy in France between the seventeenth and late eighteenth century as well as between men and women. During the reign of Louis XIV (1638 – 1715), focusing on the years from 1686 to 1690, merely more than forty percent of the French men were literate in the northern parts of the country (around Paris and toward what today is Belgium), whereas in western, central and southern France fewer than twenty percent of the French male adults could read or write. In northern France only twenty to forty percent of the French women could read or write in that same time frame, whereas fewer than twenty percent of French women were literate in the rest of the country during the days of French Absolutism. By comparison, during the years from 1786 until 1790, i. e. the years immediately before the outbreak of the French Revolution of 1789, levels of literacy had improved significantly throughout France as compared to precisely one hundred years before: More than forty percent of the French males were literate throughout almost all of northern France, the Gironde region as well as between Lyon and Marseille. In the remaining parts of the country, literacy had improved to levels of in between twenty and forty percent. Overall, one may assume that by the time of the French Revolution approximately half of the French men could read and write – in a country in which over eighty percent of the population were peasants. This is a remarkable increase in literacy in a period of one hundred years. There was, however, not a similar development with regard to French women, who were still lagging behind. In the northern parts of France around the Ile de Seine region, between twenty and forty percent of French women, sometimes even over forty percent of them, were literate – a definite improvement. On the other hand, in western, central, and southern France fewer than twenty percent of French women could read or write – in other words: By the time of the French Revolution the rate of illiteracy among French women was still over eighty percent in wide parts of the most populous European country at the time. Literacy had significantly improved within a one-hundred-year period for French men throughout the country, and for women in the northern regions of France, but not in the south.
Document # 2:
In document # 2, we could find statistics regarding the percentage of French villages with schools, selected by regions, from 1730 until 1789. As the study focused on villages, we may assume that this was indicative of what percentage of French peasants were literate by the time of the French Revolution. The study shows again a much-divided picture of the French nation with regard to villages with schools and villages without schools. In northern France, mostly in the Ile de Seine region around Paris, between ninety and ninety-eight percent of all villages, which were obviously more affluent than in the southern parts of France, had schools and could thus teach the villagers how to read and write. In the South, however, the percentages of villages with schools would widely differ: around the Gironde and Bouche-du-Rhone region between forty-seven and fifty-five percent of villages had schools, yet in more impoverished regions such as the Auvergne in Central France merely seventeen percent of all villages had any schools at all – no schools in a village would automatically translate into complete illiteracy of entire villages and a dependency on the local priest to...
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