of Speyer between 1771 and 1795 (estimated males 95 per cent, females 68 per cent) are only slightly higher than those in Koblenz.5 In any case, such figures call for a fresh look at the old notion that Catholic countries were educationally backward. The close and competitive situation in which denominations found themselves in this region ofGermany may have helped advance literacy for both Protestants and Catholics. Religious frontiers forced both groups to define themselves in reference to one another, creating an ongoing process of both differentiation and mutual dependence and leading paradoxically to reciprocal imitation.

A final point is worth mentioning: the effects of the local political system may also have affected literacy. All historians have stressed the role played during the eighteenth century by certain mountain 'republics' in the advance of literacy. Networks of kinship and alliances came together to maintain continuous chains - renewed from generation to generation - of temporary and permanent migration of literate men: clergymen, school teachers, and itinerant sellers of printed material. In the Protestant Queyras, as in the Catholic Brianconnais areas of the French Alps, or in the Alpine valleys around Lake Como in Austrian Lombardy, exceptionally high rates of masculine literacy (up to 80 per cent) have been found. To explain this phenomenon historians must consider not only the nature of the local economy (land held in small plots and a strong presence of artisans who must frequently emigrate) and the density of the modes of instruction (based in hamlet schools and informal study within the family), but also the importance of collective management achieved through community meetings which dealt autonomously with juridical, economic, and financial problems. At least among boys, this unusual environment of interpersonal relationships may have prompted a desire to learn and to pursue autodidactic study outside the official school system. Similar circumstances existed in the Swiss canton of Neuchatel, where direct village democracy, based on local political power, economic equality, and free working conditions, encouraged the development of both formal education and self-instruction within one's family and profession.6 In this Protestant land, where Calvinism had been introduced by Guillaume Farel, examinations before first communion at ages sixteen or seventeen represented both the end of schooling and the rite of passage into adult life. The test took place in the church, before the community and its elected representatives. Not only was the pastor's teaching being judged, but a whole generation's knowledge of the dogmatic truths - truths that had been read, memorized, and understood in the family as much as at church and school, and had been integrated into the individual and collective value systems.

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