Reading as Common Sense

When Charles Dickens visited America in 1842, his reception equaled that of today's pop star. Alexis de Toqueville, who visited America a few decades earlier, might have predicted such a reception. He was astonished at the quantity of newspapers.

American newspaper publishing quickly grew into a widespread and powerful tradition. By 1730, there were seven newspapers published on the Eastern seaboard. Seventy years later there were 180 - more than twice the number available in England, which had a population half the size.

In the second half of the 17th century, the literacy rate for adult men in New England is estimated to have been as high as 95%, more than twice the estimated literacy rate for men in England. American women had literacy rates higher than 60%. Nowhere in the world was literacy greater. [Read more...]

Joel Rose, Producer and Editor
Viet Le, Rachael Berenguer and Jennifer Lynn, Associate Producers
Elisabeth Perez-Luna, Executive Producer
Kenneth Finkel, Executive Director, Arts & Culture Service

Funding was provided by The William Penn Foundation.

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Marking Pennsylvania History

ExplorePAHistory.comCommon Sense
If there was a tipping point in the American drive for rebellion against the British Crown, it was an inflammatory little pamphlet called "Common Sense." But while "Common Sense" inspired the American Revolution -- and later the French Revolution -- its author, Thomas Paine, died in poverty. WHYY's Joel Rose reports. [Listen]

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