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Ayalon, Ami. Reading Palestine: Printing and Literacy, 1900-1948.

Ayalon, Ami. Reading Palestine: Printing and Literacy, 1900-1948. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2004. Paper $21.95.

The work discusses the development of the revolution in literacy that occurred in Palestine in the span of 50 years. The destruction of Palestinian society ended that revolution. Literacy and education primarily involved urban dwellers and essentially neglected the rural population. Rapid social and political change in that period led to increases in the production of the printed text that eventually contributed to the growth of the "literate community." The community comprised multiple layers. The educated elite, who existed even in the 19th century Ottoman period, expanded significantly after 1900, but remained tiny by comparison to the rest of society. State school graduates constituted another layer from the middle- and lower-classes. The largest group was the Kuttab (network of traditional Quranic schools) graduates, which was not very educated. Within those layers, there were disparities beyond the town-country divide. More males were in each of the layers than were females; and more Christians than Muslims. Relatively few individuals from the older generations as well as from the lower classes belonged to the "literate community."

Most texts were at first imported; but later, were increasingly produced in Palestine. This was the case with newspapers as well. Signs and proclamations were "viewed" in public; other texts were accessed through libraries, clubs, and reading rooms and texts were read individually or collectively.

The author is cognizant of the tentative nature of his findings given that the destruction of Palestinian society in 1948 rendered fewer documents available for researchers, resulting in a "less than satisfactory" picture of literacy in that period. "But the evidence does seem adequate for casting light on certain intricacies of the cultural reality ..." (p. 158).
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Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2005
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