Voices and Books, 1500-1800 (Newcastle Conference, 16-18 juillet 2015)

The sound of poverty:
reading and singing in the Lyon charitable schools (c. 1670 – c. 1690)

communication de Xavier Bisaro dans le cadre du congrès Voices and Books, 1500-1800 (Newcastle, 16-18 juillet 2015)


During the 1670’s, the priest Charles Demia founded several schools in Lyon, before becoming gradually in charge of the whole parish schools in the diocese. For the first ones, he established a congregation dedicated to teaching poor boys, and he conceived for this purpose some specific pedagogical tools. Among them, the high-voiced Latin reading and singing was preeminent and matched to several aims. Of course, Latin reading was the first step of literacy in these schools as well as in all of the French petites écoles. But Demia’s pupils used also books to memorize some short Latin texts (prayers, verses) whose performance punctuated the school schedule and organized their micro-social structure. Moreover, Demia’s care concerning the correctness or even the decency of Latin pronunciation shows that the oral training he has planned was a way of endowing poor boys with a new verbal status.

Based on the study of archival and printed sources, this paper aims to show how was established the relationship between reading and vocal production in a “low-literate” environment, and how this production responded to an ambitious socio-cultural project.


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