Not sure if I buy this theory... Would need to know more about the supposed evidence of paper being made from rags increasing literacy and the availability of books before the advent of the printing press, and I also want to know what the evidence is of urbanism = underwear, but it's interesting nonetheless...
The article, available through Yahoo, is reproduced here in its entirety so that when it's no longer archived on Yahoo, it can still be seen here:
Underwear's historic role... in Western learning
Thu Jul 12, 7:30 AM ET
Agence France Presse
LONDON (AFP) - Underwear underpins the spread of Western culture, with discarded underpants ranking alongside the invention of printing in the spread of literacy, according to a medieval historian.
Delegates at the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds, northern England, were told that social migration from rural to urban areas in the 13th century brought with it changes in attire.
Whereas rough and ready peasants thought little of wearing nothing under their smocks, the practice became frowned upon in the burgeoning towns and cities, leading to a run on undergarments.
And when the underwear was worn out, it provided a steady supply of material used by papermakers to make books.
"The development of literacy was certainly helped by the introduction of paper, which was made from rags," Marco Mostert, of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and one of the conference organisers, said this week.
"These rags came from discarded clothes, which cost much less than the very expensive parchment which was previously used for books.
"In the 13th century, so it is thought, as more people moved into urban centres, the use of underwear increased -- which caused an increase in the number of rags available for paper-making."
The invention of the movable type printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-15th century is generally credited with spreading learning.
But Mostert said that although literacy did not become widespread until the 19th century, it was more common in the Middle Ages than many believe because of cheap paper made from rags.