Symposium 2014

The symposium ‘What is a letter? An interdisciplinary approach’ brought together experts on letter writing from a diverse range of disciplines (including literary and cultural studies in a number of modern languages, linguistics, literacy studies, editorial studies, and ancient and modern history), countries (including Austria, Britain, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Poland, and the USA), and institutions (including universities, museums, archives, and libraries).

Against the background of a rapidly and internationally growing number of research and editing projects which centre around letters, the aim of the symposium was threefold: (i) to initiate a much-needed dialogue between disciplines (and scholars from different countries) about the theoretical concepts of ‘the letter’ which form the basis for any engagement with epistolary culture; (ii) to lay the foundations for an inclusive and interdisciplinary methodology for analysing letters, taking into account their subject-specific definitions and uses, and (iii) to make the results of these efforts available to other scholars through publication of the conference proceedings.

English and German were the working languages of the symposium. An interpreter was present to summarize papers and assist with the discussion.

Please note: A conference report will be published in due course.

Symposium programme

Conference brochure (contains: the programme, all abstracts in English and German, and biobibliographical information on the speakers in English)


Pamela Clemit: Godwin’s letters: transmissions of value (this paper is a work in progress; for more information and a link to a podcast of an earlier version of the paper, click here)

Jana Dambrogio and Daniel Starza Smith: ‘Using  historic  letterlocking  to  reseal  the  letters  of John  Donne:  a collaborative  approach  to  letters’ & ‘postscriptum: An exercise in letterlocking’ (for a guest post on the subject of ‘letterlocking’, kindly provided by Jana Dambrogio, and some photos taken at the workshop please click here)

Julia Gillen: ‘The Edwardian postcard revolution – a literacy studies perspective’ (summary)

Emma Harper: ‘From cross-written letters to human ones: how postal reforms changed the letter’ (to view the presentation, click here)

Alan Scott: Letters 2.0? Linguistic insights into the extent to which social media are a substitute for personal letters (for more details on Dr Scott’s research and publications click here)

Lena Vosding: ‘Gifts from the abbey: the letters of the Benedictine nuns in Lüne (1460 – 1550)’ (for a summary of the paper, kindly provided by Lena Vosding and including images of the manuscript and links to further material, please see this post)


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