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Searching for Literacy

The Social and Intellectual Origins of Literacy Studies

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  • © 2022


  • Argues that literacy and literacy studies are historical developments that must be understood in that context
  • Promotes awareness of the critical foundations of literacy studies
  • Critiques literacy studies, including the so-called New Literacy Studies

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About this book

This book provides a critical account of the development of questions, approaches, methods, and understandings of literacy within and across disciplines and interdisciplines. It provides a critique of literacy studies, including the New Literacy Studies. This book completes a series that the author began in the 1970s. It criticizes and revises the New Literacy Studies and how we think about literacy generally. It is a revisionist study which argues that literacy and literacy studies are historical developments and must be understood in those terms to comprehend their profound impact on our traditions of thinking about and understanding literacy, and how we study it. Graff argues that literacy studies in its academic, institutional, and policy forums, but also in popular parlance, has lost its critical foundations, and this hinders efforts to promote literacy. He examines literacy over time and across linguistics; anthropology; psychology; reading and writing across modes of communication and comprehension; “new” literacies across digital, visual, performance, numerical, and scientific domains; and history. He underscores the value of new directions of negotiation and translation. This book will interest scholars and students in the many fields that constitute literacy studies across the humanities, social sciences, education, and beyond.

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Table of contents (12 chapters)

  1. Searching for Literacy Studies


“Professor Graff is among the most influential social historians of our time and has been a trailblazer within the growing field of literacy studies for years. Given his amazing intellectual scope and experience, his newest book should draw attention to critical issues in international educational systems. I would encourage anyone interested in literary practices and education to read this book.”-Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon, Professor of History, University of Iceland; author of Wasteland with Words; Minor History and Microhistory

“Harvey Graff is unquestionably the most important historian of literacy in our lifetime. His work is consistently original, provocative, and groundbreaking. In Searching for Literacy, Graff explores the origins of a field, its urgent concerns, questions, and contributors. This is a book for anyone interested in understanding what Graff has called the continuities and contradictions of literacy—what these are, who has engaged them, and what fundamental lessons remain to be learned.” -John Duffy, Professor of English, University of Notre Dame, USA; author of Writing from these Roots: Literacy in A Hmong-American Community 

“The Literary Myth does what first-class scholarly books should do: it provides a probing and well-documented argument about the issue at hand, but it also educates the reader about the topic more generally…. In the close to thirty years since I discovered The Literacy Myth, … every single one of Harvey’s books and articles … has taught me things I didn’t know and helped me think differently or more broadly.” -Mike Rose, Graduate School of Education and Information Sciences, University of California, USA; author of Lives on the Boundary and The Mind at Work; Conference on College Composition and Communications 2017, Tribute to Harvey J. Graff  

“In Searching for Literacy: The Social and Intellectual Origins of Literacy Studies, Harvey J. Graff offers a timely and provocative analysis of how literacy is persistently deployed without documentation or definition. Tracing the development of literacy studies across disciplines and fields, Graff urges educators and scholars to resist literacy myths and connect with the historical insights that ground this area of study.”
-Patrick Berry, Syracuse University, USA; author of Doing Time, Writing Lives: Refiguring Literacy and Higher Education in Prison 

“A necessary, magnificent book, written by America's greatest specialist in the history of literacy. Since 1979 Harvey Graff has been a world authority on literacy studies, a discipline in the History of Culture that is enriched by this new book. A useful work for the education and culture sector, rigorous and interdisciplinary: it addresses literacy in various fields of knowledge.”
-Diego Moldes, Madrid, Spain; writer, film historian, student of print and literacy in European history

Authors and Affiliations

  • Department of English, The Ohio State University, Columbus, USA

    Harvey J. Graff

About the author

Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History at The Ohio State University, USA. He was inaugural Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies and founded the university-wide interdisciplinary initiative LiteracyStudies@OSU. One of the world’s authorities, his books are recognized landmarks, from The Literacy Myth to The Legacies of Literacy and The Labyrinths of Literacy, among others on children and youth, cities, and interdisciplinarity.

Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: Searching for Literacy

  • Book Subtitle: The Social and Intellectual Origins of Literacy Studies

  • Authors: Harvey J. Graff

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Cham

  • eBook Packages: Social Sciences, Social Sciences (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2022

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-3-030-96980-6Published: 22 August 2022

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-3-030-96983-7Published: 23 August 2023

  • eBook ISBN: 978-3-030-96981-3Published: 21 August 2022

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: XIV, 314

  • Topics: Applied Linguistics, Literacy, Language Education, Social History, Cultural History

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