Underwear and Literacy

New research suggests that the medieval period was more literate than we used to believe; and the critical technological component was not print but paper. Where did the paper come from? Most Europeans in late medieval times couldn't afford expensive parchment, so they used rags. The rags were often made of used undies. Money quote:

Speaking at this year’s IMC, which runs from 9 to 12 July, Dr Mostert said that literacy was more common in the Middle Ages than is popularly thought. “Although the aim of producing a 100% literate population didn’t occur before the 19th century, after about 1100 the need for literacy grew steadily, and from about 1200 onwards the number of literates increased dramatically along with the number of schools in urban areas.”

Yet even in countries where there were few or no towns and, therefore, schools, such as Iceland, the literacy rate continued to grow rapidly. “Many people learnt to read at home, usually from their mothers,” says Dr Mostert. “The role of female literacy in the home has been underestimated until quite recently.”

I have no reason for posting this except I found all of it fascinating. The random ways in which history moves forward and backward are part of the contingency of being human.