Reposted: Workshop ‘On Letters’, 12-14 April 2018, Hamburg (free of charge)

Date: 12–14 April 2018
Venue:  Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, Warburgstraße 26, Hamburg, Germany

Besides administrative documents, letters are among the earliest examples of writing in the history of mankind. At the same time this genre was—and still is—of special persistence within almost all manuscript cultures up to the present day. Belonging primarily to the realm of pragmatic handwriting, letters have become a part of what we nowadays define as literature, and, as objects of religious or aesthetic veneration, of art, too. Under the heading of “Epistolography” letters have been studied as a subfield of History and Literature for a long time. This conference, however, will focus on the material side and its accompanying practices, rather than on content.

To cover relevant phenomena from different cultures and periods the workshop will deal with handwritten documents that are meant for more or less immediate communication. Their formal qualities as a whole strive for accessibility and practicability—even in the case of secret letters—, characterised by the tendency to portability and to limited length. A letter in the narrow sense is, with a very few exceptions, per definitionem unique; even if the manuscript is copied, e.g. as a later reference, its original purpose remains to be bound to the single, unique object spanning the distance of senders and addressees.

The production and use of letters—or other comparable documents meant for communication—is dominated by a loose set of polarities, each set providing a continuum by which a given artefact can be defined: open or closed (secret); private or public; written by one’s own hand (“authentic”) or by a second person; for immediate use (expecting direct response) or mainly for documentary purpose; formal or informal, and others.

The workshop will approach the subject from at least three perspectives:

  1. We will consider circumstances of production, including choices of materials, writing styles, and matters of different formats that are all related to the various forms and levels of sender and addressee and their relation, be they areal individual, institutions or imagined or transcendent counterparts. For this part letters are also typically strongly marked by authoriality, both on the material and the textual level.
  2. We will consider circumstances of use, including the relation of transmission and materiality, especially means of protection and the integrity of devices of authentication (envelopes, seals and the like). Besides activities that involve reading (aloud or silent) the most interesting point concerns strategies of safekeeping and archiving. The personal and fragile character of these physical objects has led at an early stage to a compilation of letters as parts of multiple-text manuscripts (MTM), worth a more detailed investigation.
  3. As a third perspective we would like to discuss phenomena on a more general level, e.g. the role of transmission and adoption of techniques of letter writing between different manuscript cultures, and the development and use of anthologies of formulae, letter writing guides etc., both as material objects by themselves and as instruction guides containing information on material aspects.

Focusing on the relation between material aspects and social practices involving letters the workshop intends to deepen our understanding of the interaction of pragmatic and literate manuscripts from a comparative perspective.

To download the programme and abstracts, to register, and for further information, click here.

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Reblogged: Fifty Primers of Children’s History

A great resource!

Children and Youth on the Move

We’ve been asking some children’s historians about the publications that have inspired them, and here are some of the responses we’ve received so far.

Fifty Primers of Children’s History

Fifty Primers of Children’s History

If you have any more suggestions, please let us know! Contact us

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The century of letters and friendship

Oxford German Network

A guest post this week: Dr Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig explains the special place writing letters had for German-speakers in the eighteenth century…

Since ancient times, letter writing and friendship have been intimately connected in people’s imagination. For centuries, letters were even defined specifically as ‘a mutual conversation between absent friends’ (to quote from Erasmus’s treatise on letter writing, Opus de conscribendis epistolis, 1522). Correspondence between friends also came to be associated with a distinct epistolary type: the letter of friendship. Such letters were usually characterized by a familiar tone and a level of intimacy not found in other types of letters, e.g. official communication sent from a public institution to a citizen.

In German cultural and literary history, letters of friendship flourished particularly in the eighteenth century. In this period, which has been called both the ‘century of letters’ and the ‘century of friendship’, people began to celebrate personal friendships…

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CFP: Colloquium ‘Children’s Traces’ (Oxford, 29/6/18), Deadline 5 March 2018

Title/Type of event: ‘Children’s Traces, One day colloquium
Organizer: Centre for the History of Childhood
Venue: Magdalen College, University of Oxford
Date: 29 June 2018
Deadline for paper proposals: 5 March 2018

This one-day colloquium on the theme of ‘Children’s traces’ examines the politics of visibility. All historians work with traces of the past, but some people leave larger and more long-lasting archival imprints than others. Children are notorious for being difficult to ignore in the present, but hard to find in our historical record. The colloquium will bring together papers that direct a spotlight on how age shapes the visibility of historical actors, across time and place. Which children made themselves (or were made) visible in the historical record? Whose voices do we fail to hear? And what do the shifting contexts in which children made their mark tell us about the society, culture, economy and politics of which they were part? We hope that each paper will use new scholarship on young lives in a particular historical context to draw out wider methodological and historiographical insights about the visibility of children in the past.

The colloquium will focus not only on what made children archivally or textually visible, but also on the new approaches that researchers are taking to uncover and interpret this evidence. We encourage papers that illuminate ways of working with a wide range of sources. These might include children’s diaries and letters, drawings and material objects made by children, published writing by young people, or case files and court records about the young.

Submit your abstracts!

We are also particularly keen to examine questions of how we share insights that emerge from these traces with diverse readerships and audiences. How can we use these archival fragments to form compelling narratives about children’s lives in the past, including when we have no sources penned by children themselves? We encourage papers from archivists, exhibition curators, broadcasters, and film-makers, as well as from those who write and publish history books about children’s lives.

We welcome papers from any disciplinary background and career stage. We anticipate that funding for travel and accommodation will be available, including some travel bursaries to enable graduate students working on the history of childhood to attend.

Please send abstracts of no more than 500 words and a brief bio to by Monday 5th March 2018.

Laurence Brockliss

Nick Stargardt

Siân Pooley

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Reblogged: Ethical and Interpretative Issues Workshop, 16 February 2018

Lives of Letters

Booking is now open for our first of two workshops this semester. To register, please fill out our Google form. Places are limited, and are allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.

Lives of Letters-Ethical and Interpretative Workshop 16 February 2018Ethical and Interpretative Issues Workshop, 16 February 2018

This workshop will engage participants in interdisciplinary conversation on the theme of the ethical and interpretative challenges of working with correspondence containing private or sensitive information. The sessions will reflect on issues relating to the handling of this information in the writing of history, whether as used sources for personal or institutional biography or as part of the history writing of larger communities and movements.

This event is co-hosted by the Manchester History of Humanities Research Network.


Conference Room, Graduate School, Ellen Wilkinson Building, University of Manchester Oxford Rd Campus (M13 9PL). Building 77 on the campus map.


Session 1: “Correspondence, Networks and Biography”

[Abstracts for Session…

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Out now: ‘Was ist ein Brief? – What is a letter?’

matthews-schlinzig_socha_was ist ein brief_cover

Dear readers,

we, the curators of this blog, are very pleased to announce that our edited collection Was ist ein Brief? – Aufsätze zu epistolarer Theorie und Kultur. What is a letter? – Essays on epistolary theory and culture is now available from Königshausen & Neumann.

Our warmest thanks go to the authors who contributed to this volume.

Your sincerely,

Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig and Caroline Socha


PS: Table of contents

Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig / Caroline Socha: Von einfachen Fragen, oder: Ein Brief zur Einführung


I. Konzepte des Briefes / Conceptualizing letters

Michael Sinding: Letterier: categories, genres, and epistolarity

Nicholas Cronk: Generic instability in Voltaire’s correspondence: When is a letter not a letter?

Robert Vellusig: Die Poesie des Briefes. Eine literaturanthropologische Skizze

Inka Kording: Epistolarisches. Die achtfache Relationalität des Briefes

Jochen Strobel: Welchen Erkenntnisgewinn versprechen digitale Briefeditionen?

II. Ein Medium im Wandel / A changing medium

Grace Egan: Epistolary valediction in Johnson and Thrale’s correspondence

Julia Gillen: ‘I should have wrote a letter tonight’: A Literacy Studies perspective on the Edwardian postcard

Alan Scott: Letters 2.0? Linguistic insights into the extent to which social media are a substitute for personal letters

Emma de Vries: Letters in/on transition: neo-epistolarity, nostalgia, and new media

III. Schreibkulturen / Cultures of writing

Patrick Reinard: Briefe auf Papyri und Ostraka. Bemerkungen zur quellenkritischen Auswertung in der althistorischen Forschung

Lik Hang Tsui: Calligraphic letters as precious objects in Chinese history

Lena Vosding: Gifts from the convent: the letters of the Benedictine Nuns at Lüne as the material manifestation of spiritual care

Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig: Collaboration and imagination in letters between parents and their children: The Herder family correspondence 1788–89


Autorinnen und Autoren / Contributors



Altes Medium, frisches Leben: ‘The Letters Page (Vol. 2)’


Auch im Zeitalter von Twitter, WhatsApp und Email leben manch Totgesagte länger: So zumindest ergeht es dem Brief, der seit einigen Jahren in Großbritannien eine neue Blüte erlebt. Da beeindrucken schön produzierte Anthologien wie Shaun Ushers Letters of Note mit Botschaften berühmter Personen. Die Organisatoren von Letters Live lassen diese Briefe von Stars wie Benedict Cumberbatch oder Sir Ian McKellen vor großem Publikum vortragen. Ein altes Kommunikationsmedium als massentaugliches Event. Wem dies zu kommerziell ist, der halte sich an Projekte wie Writing Back: Es hilft Brieffreundschaften zwischen Student/innen und Senior/innen zu knüpfen – für intergenerationellen Austausch und gegen Alterseinsamkeit. Auf berührende Weise verdienstvoll macht sich ebenfalls From Me to You, eine Initiative, die Briefe an Krebskranke initiiert – von Freunden wie Fremden.

Dafür, dass auch der fiktionale Brief eine Art Renaissance erlebt, zeichnet in nicht unerheblicher Weise die seit 2013 an der Universität Nottingham beheimatete literarische Zeitschrift The Letters Page verantwortlich. Konzipiert von Autor Jon McGregor als Unterrichtsprojekt wird sie von ihm und seinen Student/innen herausgegeben. Letztere, so McGregor, “sind fast durchweg in den Produktionsprozess einbezogen.” – Das reicht von der Lektüre der Einsendungen über die Mitarbeit am Design bis hin zur Online-Werbung für das fertige Produkt. Manche/r wird dabei den Brief als kreatives Medium für sich entdecken: Denn so begegnet er einem in der Zeitschrift selbst, die – der Name ist Programm – aus literarischen Briefen besteht. Wer hier veröffentlichen möchte, muss zunächst ganz altmodisch zu Papier und Stift, Umschlag und Briefmarke greifen. Bei der Auswahl zählt, dann, so McGregor, vor allem die literarische Qualität. Veröffentlicht werden die Beiträge schließlich eher zeitgenössisch online.

Seit 2016 erscheinen einige der Letters Page-Briefe im zypriotischen Verlag Book Ex Machina auch in gedruckter Form. Buch- und Briefkunst gehen hierbei eine reizvolle Verbindung ein: The Letters Page – Vol. 1 hatte die Form einer ‘Briefkiste’, die neben einem Büchlein mit gedruckten Briefen Einzelblattfaksimiles beinhaltete. Die im Herbst 2017 – wieder in limitierter Auflage – erschiene zweite Anthologie erreicht ihre Leser dagegen in einem Briefumschlag aus festem Karton; der äußere Einband des Büchleins selbst spielt auf die Ästhetik der Luftpost an. Im Band spielen derweil, so Verlegerin Ioanna Mavrou, die nur auf den ersten Blick identischen “Titelblätter” der Beiträge auf deren Kernthemen an: ‘Plagiat’ bzw. ‘Kopie’ und ‘Einfluss’.

Die Autor/innen nähern sich diesen Themen aus unterschiedlichen Perspektiven; Form und Inhalt ergänzen sich häufig: So etwa bei Kit Caless, der eine angeblich per Instagram-Messenger geführte Copyright-Auseinandersetzung in ein analoges Medium rücküberträgt. Anders amüsant denkt Andrew McMillan darüber nach, inwiefern Kinder nur Kopien ihrer Eltern sind und wir alle uns im Grunde gegenseitig plagiieren. Schließlich erinnert Darren Chetty in einem der schönsten Beiträge des Bandes daran, wie eng Kreativität und Imitation miteinander verflochten sind.

Literarisch überzeugen manche Beiträge mehr als andere – besonders positiv hervorzuheben ist Joe Dunthornes dystopisch-poetischer Text, der sich in bester (Oulipo-) Tradition nur eines Vokals bedient. Etwas fehlplatziert wirken dagegen die wenigen Beiträge, die die Grenzen von Brieflichkeit nicht erfolgreich austesten: Eine Unterschrift allein macht einen Prosatext eben nicht zum Brief. Der eine oder andere editorische Lapsus hätte sich auch vermeiden lassen, u.a. in den teils hilfreichen, teils ein wenig ausführlichen Fußnoten zu den Beiträgen. Am Ende versöhnt dann aber die Qualität der Anthologie insgesamt – gemeinsam mit der Tatsache, dass hier auch Autor/innen zu Wort kommen, die keine professionellen Literaten sind: Wie etwa Jonathan Ellis, dessen Meditation über Tod, Verlust und die das eigene Leben überdauernde Korrespondenzen zu den rührendsten Texten des Bandes zählt.

Alles in allem sind The Letters Page – Vol. 2 (ebenso wie ihrem Vorgänger und eventuellen Nachfolgern) viele Leser zu wünschen – allein schon um des anregenden inhaltlichen Formats und buchgestalterischen Anspruchs willen. Ebenfalls zu hoffen ist, , dass die eingangs erwähnten Projekte Writing Back und From Me to You erfolgreich bleiben. – Und wer weiß, vielleicht finden sich ja auch im deutschen Sprachraum Menschen, die sich auf ähnlich kreative bzw. sozial positive Weise des Briefes annehmen? Bewegung in diese Richtungen ist bereits auszumachen: Beispielhaft genannt seien die digitalen Dichterbriefe – “eine Mischung aus Offenem Brief zu Lyrik und Gesellschaft, bewusst parteiischer Rezension und vertrautem Austausch”, mit denen Autor Christophe Fricker seine Leser seit einiger Zeit erfreut.

PS: Für alle, die mehr über The Letters Page sowie das Design der Druckausgabe/n erfahren möchten, füge ich am Ende dieses Eintrags zwei (per Email geführte) Q&As mit dem Herausgeber Jon McGregor und der Verlegerin Ioanna Mavrou an.




Q&A with the editor, Jon McGregor

– Who chose the titles for the letters? (and how?)

Almost always, I have chosen the titles for the letters. This goes right back to our first issue, when it just seemed like a good idea to give the letters titles, in order to give the reader some sense of the content and tone of each letter. And also because it looked right on the page. Usually I have just taken a line or phrase from the letter which has struck me as sounding good, or containing a spark of what the letter is about. Sometimes I have checked with the author if they are happy with my choice of title; sometimes I have neglected to do so. It’s interesting, because usually with a literary work the author is very concerned with the title – it’s seen as an intrinsic part of the text – but with letters it seems redundant to use a title.

– Who added/wrote the footnotes? (and why?)

Again, this was mostly me. There were some letters that we published in the first issue that seemed to require additional explanation or exposition; and then I also had the sense that the footnote was another version of the marginalia that you might find in a handwritten letter. *And* I wanted to play with the fact that we are publishing from an academic institution, but this is not an academic piece of work; and so to be playful with academic apparatus such as footnotes. Often the students I work with will research the material for the footnotes, but I always rewrite what they have done in order to achieve a kind of ‘house style’. Occasionally the authors themselves will provide a footnote.

– What was the rationale for selecting the contributions?

It’s the quality of writing, first. I want The Letters Page to be something that people read for the quality of the writing, in the same way that they would be drawn to any other literary journal or book. But then I’m interested in what people do with the restrictions of the form (which turn out not to be all that restrictive), and with how they gain and retain the attention of the reader. Once there are a number of pieces we’re interested in using, we start to look for some coherency between them, connections and continuities, until we find a collection of pieces which work together.

– Were Nottingham students involved at all in the production of the book?

Yes, very much so. The whole project is designed around student involvement. They have a hand in most of the process – reading and commenting on submissions, researching footnotes and author biogs, organising some of the layout and design, proof-reading – as well as in a lot of the promotional work that we do online, and organising launch events. Ultimately, I make the final creative decisions, as editor, but the student’s involvement is very important. It’s a key element in their studies on the Creative Writing course here.

– How does, in your opinion, The Letters Page (and Vols 1 & 2) relate to current letter culture(s)?

I hope it’s a part of the ongoing conversation about letters as a form of communication and letters as an art form in themselves. Some people are actively encouraging or campaigning for a ‘return’ to letter writing, and others are celebrating the history of letters and letter writing; I would say that we’re doing neither of those things. Instead, we’re celebrating the possibilities of what used to be a mainstream form and has now become rather niche, and in doing so we hope we’re providing a prompt or spark of inspiration to encourage some great and unexpected work from our writers.


Q&A with the publisher, Ioanna Mavrou

– What was your rationale for designing the book [i.e. The Letters Page – Vol. 2] as you did? What aspects were most important to you? (If possible, please include comments on the cover (inside and outside), use of handwriting vs. typeface, colours/illustrations, choice of paper.)

The cover of the book, along with the mailing envelope the book comes in, elude to the origins of The Letters Page project itself, the physical handwritten letters mailed in the post, and the inside of the book cover serves both as a self-reference to Vol. 1 and to the theme of Vol. 2, which is copies.

For the individual title pages we wanted to add a twist to the concept of copies, so that on first glance they all appear identical while in reality not two backgrounds are the same. The colours are both related to the letters and also act as integrated bookmarks, especially when you flip the book backwards, so you can easily re-find your favourite letter.

– How does, in your view, the design relate to the book’s theme/content? Why did you choose to come up with a new design – instead of copying that of The Letters Page – Vol. 1?

When we start working on a project, we have several brainstorming sessions early on where we just throw ideas in the air and the ones that we find exciting, we make into mock-ups which are then placed on a board in our office. After a while, it becomes clear which idea fits best with the project at hand.

We went all out in the production of Vol. 1 both in production costs and time that we spent for the parts of the project we did in-house (including the hand-written letter reproductions, and the assembly of each box) so we could only produce a small number of copies. So to extend the edition run for Vol. 2 we changed the format, still keeping the design interesting and creating a postal object that served both the content and looked cool!