5. What can students learn from literacy data?
Another example of the way that I use these data to get my students to ask some interesting questions about the lives of women in the past comes from the literacy data. So I use the 1900 data. And the example that I give them comes from a literacy report. It reports how many people can read and write, how many people can only read, how many people simply know their alphabet, and then a total. And then within that, it breaks it down further according to the size of the city that they live in or the size of the district that they live in.
So its possible to compare literacy rates in a big city like Prague to literacy rates in the smaller, more rural areas like Böhmisch-Leipa. In the city of Prague about 80%, 85% of the population of the city can read and write. A few can only read and then the rest know their alphabet, with the exception of a very small number who dont even know their alphabet, less than a percent.
In Prague, women constitute 52% of the population that can read and write and they constitute 53% of the population. So women in Prague are fully literate in the same way that men are fully literate. But if we look at Böhmisch-Leipa the picture is quite different. So if students compare an urban area to a rural area, they find that in the rural areas, women are less literate. They can start looking at this report and see that the smaller the district is, the more likely women are to be illiterate.
And so, then, this causes students to ask the question of, "Well, why would that be?" If there is mandatory primary schooling throughout the state, why would it be that women would be more illiterate in these rural areas than they would be in urban areas. I give them a small subset of these numbers to look at. Several urban districts, several rural districts. And then they start asking these kinds of questions. And then they have to go off and try to answer them through other kinds of sources. There are lots of other sources that speak to this, but the numbers often begin the process of investigation.
What they come up with is that rural society tends to be more traditional and so there is resistance to women taking on more modern roles. They are discouraged from education to a greater degree in rural areas than in urban areas. In urban Austria in the late 19th century, the population across the various national groups and across the provinces was aggressively modernizing. There was really a competition among the various national groups to see who could get ahead fastest and fight for the resources to make that possible. But in the rural areas, there is more sort of a traditional approach.