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of Literacy

In the early centuries after Gutenberg, individuals' encounters with printed materials were limited. In most European countries, literacy instruction and use were initially confined to elite males. It took about 300 years (roughly from 1600 to 1900) for European countries to move from restricted literacy to mass literacy for males, with rates offemale literacy increasing rapidly in the late 19th centurytoclosetothemalerate (Kaestle, 1985;Resnick &Resnick, 1977). The attainment of mass or even universal literacy in a particular country, however, did not mean that literate individuals were encountering a variety of printed texts and engaging them in sustained and critical ways-the way many would define literacy today. Estimates of literacy were often made on the basis of quite crude measures (e.g., through the ability to sign or read and recite familiar material; Kaestle, 1985).