Harvey J. Graff

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Harvey J. Graff
Born (1949-06-19) June 19, 1949 (age 68)
Fields Urban History, Cultural History, History of Literacy
Institutions Ohio State University, University of Texas at San Antonio, Loyola University of Chicago (visiting professor), Simon Fraser University (visiting professor)[1]
Known for Scholarship on social history and the history of literacy

Harvey J. Graff (born June 19, 1949) is a comparative social historian as well as a professor of English and History at Ohio State University.[2] His writings on the history of literacy have been published in eight countries and he is acknowledged internationally for his contributions to urban studies and urban history. Some of his more notable works include two books entitled The Literacy Myth and Conflicting Paths: Growing Up in America.[3]


Harvey J. Graff received the Bachelor of Arts degree from Northwestern University in 1970 followed by Master of Arts from The University of Toronto in 1971, and finally his Doctor of Philosophy, also from The University of Toronto in 1975.

Before coming to his current residence at Ohio State University in 2004, Graff taught at the University of Texas at Dallas from 1975-1998 and the University of Texas at San Antonio from 1998 to 2004.[4] He was a strong proposnent of quantitative social science methods in history. He was elected the president of the Social Science History Association (1999-2000). In his presidential address Graff argued that traditional historians had successfully counterattacked against quantification and the innovations of the "new social history":

The case against the new mixed and confused a lengthy list of ingredients, including the following: history’s supposed loss of identity and humanity in the stain of social science, the fear of subordinating quality to quantity, conceptual and technical fallacies, violation of the literary character and biographical base of “good” history (rhetorical and aesthetic concern), loss of audiences, derogation of history rooted in “great men” and “great events,” trivialization in general, a hodge-podge of ideological objections from all directions, and a fear that new historians were reaping research funds that might otherwise come to their detractors. To defenders of history as they knew it, the discipline was in crisis, and the pursuit of the new was a major cause.[5]


The Literacy Myth

Written in 1979, this book studies 19th century educators who supported the "literacy myth", as Graff calls it, which is the assumption that literacy translates to economic, social, and cultural success. Graff suggests that this myth views literacy as a necessity for success, and a means to an economic, social, or political end. His research contradicts this, suggesting “that connections between schooling and social mobility are not natural ones".[6] He goes on to say that reality contradicts inborn assumptions correlating literacy and success.[6]

Conflicting Paths: Growing Up in America

The assumption has been made by scholars and general populous alike “that children have followed in the paths marked out for them by adults, and the possibility that they developed their own reactions and behavior in the course of their maturation has been ignored”.[7] Basically, while social scientists are familiar with normative behavior, little is known about the actual behavior of children as they mature. Conflicting Paths looks at over five-hundred narratives dating from 1750 to 1920 to try and follow the actual process of growing up in America and, if it has, how it has changed over time as well as the effects of factors such as class, gender and ethnicity.[7][8]


In 2001 he was presented the Doctor of Philosophy honoris causa by the University of Linköping in Sweden for his contributions to scholarship.[3] Graff has also received awards from the American Antiquarian Society, American Council of Learned Societies, Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Science Foundation, The Newberry Library, Spencer Foundation, Swedish Institute, Texas Committee for the Humanities, and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.[3]


  1. ^ "Harvey J. Graff , Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies". Archived from the original on June 10, 2012. Retrieved 28 September 2011. 
  2. ^ Date information sourced from Library of Congress Authorities data, via corresponding WorldCat Identities linked authority file (LAF) .
  3. ^ a b c "Harvey J. Graff: Brief Biographical Statement" (PDF). Retrieved 25 September 2011. 
  4. ^ "Harvey J. Graff Biography 2002". Retrieved 28 September 2011. 
  5. ^ Harvey J. Graff, "The Shock of the 'New’ (Histories)': Social Science Histories and Historical Literacies," Social Science History 25.4 (2001) 483-533, quote at p. 490; available in Project Muse
  6. ^ a b Alexander, Kara (2006). Implicit response: Instructor values and social class in the literacy narrative assignment. ProQuest LLCC. pp. 22–23. Retrieved 25 September 2011. 
  7. ^ a b Magnússon, Sigurður (1997). "Review". Journal of Social History. 30: 733–735. JSTOR 3789556. 
  8. ^ "Conflicting Paths: Growing Up in America: Editorial Reviews". Retrieved 25 September 2011.