The invention of counting
The statistical measurement of literacy in nineteenth-century England
This article examines the invention of counting literacy on a national basis in nineteenth-century Britain. Through an analysis of Registrar Generals' reports, it describes how the early statisticians wrestled with the implications of their new-found capacity to describe a nation's communications skills in a single table and how they were unable to escape their model of a society of isolated individuals divided into the literate and illiterate. The continuing influence of this approach is traced in the recent report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIACC).