RE: [xmca] FW: NCTEAR

From: Peter Smagorinsky (
Date: Sun Jan 28 2007 - 10:53:04 PST

Mike, I guess that asking me a direct question is one way to get me to
contribute to these discussions. Sorry I've mostly lurked of late--it's one
of those years.

The question "What is literacy?" came up in a doctoral seminar I'm teaching
on research in composition this semester. One of the students brought in
something from Gunther Kress (a literacy-oriented semiotics guy) in which he
argues that literacy ought only to be applied to the ability to read or
produce letter-oriented codes. Kress has also been part of the New London
Group, famed for its paper on Multiliteracies, a construct that accounts for
"new" literacies largely following from recent technologies--the images,
sounds, etc. involved in internet communication.

For what it's worth, I just checked my dictionary and got the following for
 : the quality or state of being literate

It's interesting that they date the term to 1883; was there no such concept
in English before then?

I then checked "literate":
Etymology:Middle English literat, from Latin litteratus marked with letters,
literate, from litterae letters, literature, from plural of littera
Date:15th century

1 a : EDUCATED, CULTURED b : able to read and write
2 a : versed in literature or creative writing : LITERARY b : LUCID,
POLISHED *a literate essay* c : having knowledge or competence
*computer-literate* *politically literate*

So, the term's root helps define the term as one concerned with letters. And
images were available at the time as well. I'm currently writing a handbook
chapter in which I use the following about Paris's Cathedral of Notre-Dame:

In the sixth century Pope Gregory the Great proposed that the scriptures be
depicted on the walls of churches for the benefit of the largely unlettered
Christian flock. In the city of Arras in northern France in 1025, religious
leaders revived this proposal, believing that it might enable "illiterate
people to learn what books cannot teach them" (Gies & Gies, 1994, p. 130).
During the Middle Ages sculpture was the most esteemed artistic medium, one
of the few that could be admired and understood by both aristocrats and
uneducated peasants. Many European churches began to provide comprehensive
theological lessons carved in stone, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame among them.
Because it depicted the Biblical narrative in sculpture and other art forms
so that it could be read by the masses, the church was variously known as
the Sermon in Stone and the Bible of the Poor.

So, this idea of "reading" images is not so new after all--it's been around
for at least 1000 years, and in texts that were central to the lives of the
people of the time.

All this brings me no closer to answering your question than I was before I
started. I'm among those who've talked about literacy as part of images--not
so much through computer images but in "reading" drawings in architecture,
interior design, and horse ranch design; and in interpreting literature
through art. (if anyone's interested in the references, they're listed at; I've got pdf files of most
of them.) According to Kress (at least in the reference my student
provided), doing so is off the mark.



-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of Mike Cole
Sent: Sunday, January 28, 2007 12:02 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Cc: mca; jobs; reviewers; langandlit
Subject: Re: [xmca] FW: NCTEAR

Hi Peter-- Now if only I retired and could go to all these interesting
conferences!! Thanks for the post.

Kevin has from time to time been around xmca and perhaps you or he or
someone would comment on the proliferation of the uses of the term,
literacy. I have dabbled in such extrensions in a timid way in an earlier
paper on the concept of literacy in print and film.
And, of course, I live immersed in the discussions of computer literacy. Nor
can I avoid the multitude of "literacies" that have gone in and out of vogue
in recent decades: emotional literacy, cultural literacy, multi-cultural
literacy, information-seeking literacy, visual literacy, music literacy

Sometimes it seems to me that sometimes the term, literacy, is a simple
substitute for "knowledge of." At other times special systems of codes are
involved (so my co-author and argued vis a vis film literacy and I would
argue for some other uses of the term, but not all). The title of the
conference sharply accentuates this issue.-- living literacies of the body
and image.

What, indeed, counts as literacy. What does count mean in this case?
1,2,3,4,.......!! Which ideas re literacy are we for?

Maybe the conference organizers could stream the major talks so we could all
have a chance to learn? As it is, this Brer rabbit will be holed up teaching
and preparing classes when not seeking to promote (dare I sway it!) the
literacy of children who are being set up to be non-union peripheral workers
in local service industries.


On 1/28/07, Peter Smagorinsky <> wrote:
> Dear Colleagues,
> The NCTEAR website has been updated and all information is now
> available for the upcoming Mid-Winter NCTEAR Conference!
> Conference Theme:? What Counts As Literacy? Living Literacies of the
> Body and Image
> Date and Location:? February 23-25, Peabody College of Vanderbilt
> University
> Please visit the site for information about speakers, registration,
> and housing.? In addition to featuring an exciting schedule of?keynote
> addresses workshop presentations, and roundtables, this year's
> conference will include interactive lunchtime sessions with featured
> researchers.? To add to your conference experience, we have scheduled
> a Saturday night music event at the Bluebird Cafe, a Nashville
> tradition with a worldwide reputation for showcasing some of the world's
greatest acoustic and country shows!?
> Registration for "Music at the Bluebird" is available at the website.
> ?** Advanced registration ends on January 30th, so please register now!?
> Visit the website for registration information.? After January 30th,
> registration will be onsite at Joe B. Wyatt Center, Peabody College,
> Vanderbilt University.
> Attached is an flier with more information about the conference theme
> and speakers.
> We look forward to seeing you in Nashville!
> Cynthia Lewis and Kevin Leander
> Co-Chairs, NCTEAR
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list

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