Special Issue/Édition spéciale : Fall/automne 2007
Special Issue - Articles

The Vivid Alphabet. Media and Mass Literacy in the Early Modern Military State

Thomas Goetselius
Stockholm University, Sweden
Published January 19, 2008
  • Mass Literacy,
  • Technology and Education,
  • Hypermedia,
  • Disciplinary Power
How to Cite
Goetselius, Thomas. 2008. “The Vivid Alphabet. Media and Mass Literacy in the Early Modern Military State”. Historical Studies in Education / Revue d’histoire De l’éducation 19 (2), 53-82. https://historicalstudiesineducation.ca/hse/index.php/edu_hse-rhe/article/view/362.


This article explores the connections between literacy, media technology and power in early modern Northern Europe. Designed as a genealogy of mass literacy, it suggests that the extremely successful literacy campaign in the kingdom of Sweden (dating back to 1686) was based upon a new kind of writing, a reshaped alphabetic technology, coterminous with a new technology of power, namely discipline, which originated in the army. At the same time, it argues that militarization of society, rather than consolidation of Lutheran faith, provides the pertinent context in which the take off of universal literacy in Northern Europe, and, consequently, in the West, must be interpreted. Thus it becomes possible to explain why mass literacy was first achieved in Sweden, a state of imperial ambition were military needs and military organization permeated every aspect of society.