Tag Archives: letter writing

Reblogged: Announcement: MLA 2017 Special Session on Godwin, Shelley, and Hazlitt — Pamela Clemit

A Special Session will be held at the 2017 MLA Annual Convention (Philadelphia, 5-8 January) on Thursday 5 January, 1:45-3:00 p.m., 104B, Pennsylvania Convention Center. Reloading the Romantic Canon: New Texts and Contexts from Godwin, Shelley, and Hazlitt Until the last two decades of the twentieth century, the canon of British Romantic authors installed by the […]

via Announcement: MLA 2017 Special Session on Godwin, Shelley, and Hazlitt — Pamela Clemit

Regarding a child’s summer holiday postcard – A letter


Dear Reader,

The postcard pictured above was sent on 12 April 1988 from Wadebridge in Cornwall to Oxford. It is one of those cards you yourself might recall having written to your own grandparents during a family summer holiday.


Above is the reverse side. The note underneath the drawing and the address were in all likelihood added by an adult. They identify the card’s author as ‘Jessie’ and the addressee as ‘Granny’. Jessie, apparently, was too young to produce a complex drawing, let alone  write.

You may ask yourself – just as I do – : did child or parents initiate the ‘writing’ of the postcard? who chose it? did the child tell the parent to add the note?

This postcard is a wonderful example of what I would call a ‘composite object’: a letter, postcard, or text/drawing in a different format, that is the result of a collective effort of several authors – in this case: a child and an adult. Their relationship is marked by a complex mix of agency and dependency: the child’s agency seems both curtailed and extended: they depend, for instance, on the parent for a range of activities – such as buying the postcard and adding the correct address; but they are also enabled to participate in ‘grown-up’ correspondence and to express themselves freely – and, in this case, ‘colourfully’.

The parent’s position of power notwithstanding, the traces of their emotional investment, imagination, and enjoyment in taking part in this shared project are also obvious – not least from the little, incomplete smiley appended to the child’s name. By adding the note and addressing the card to ‘Granny’, the parent even assumes the child’s perspective – and with that their ‘voice’; they write not only on their child’s behalf but in their name.

Similar forms of collaborative writing and mutual investment can also be found in late eighteenth-century children’s letters. I am currently working on a case study of the letters written by the children of the German philosopher, theologian and cultural historian Johann Gottfried August Herder in the 1780s and 90s; the period I am particularly concerned with are the years 1788 / 89 during which Herder travelled to Italy.

The first results of my research on this material will be published in a collection of essays entitled Was ist ein Brief? – Aufsätze zu epistolarer Theorie und Kultur / What is a letter? Essays on epistolary theory and culture which Caroline Socha (Basel/Switzerland) and I are currently preparing for publication with Königshausen & Neumann. If you, dear Reader, would like to read more about children’s correspondence and maybe, also, about epistolary theory and cultures more generally, this book might be of interest to you.

Quite independently of that, I very much hope you enjoyed this short missive and that you will come back in time for more.

Sincerely yours,

Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig

PS: I chanced upon the postcard pictured above in one of Oxford’s many Oxfam shops. I also found a few others there which I might share with you at a later stage. If you happen to be ‘Jessie’ or know (of) them, I would appreciate it very much if you could get in touch.


Call for posters: Digital Epistolary Network

Postgraduate students and early career researchers are invited to propose posters for a one-day, student-run conference exploring how we engage with letters in the digital age.

The conference takes an inclusive and interdisciplinary approach, considering letters from antiquity to the present day. It seeks to promote collaborative dialogue between academics, archivists, publishers, and the public, and to facilitate illuminating discussion from inside and outside the academic sphere – including opinion from individuals who write, read, reveal and research correspondence in their professional or personal lives. Through a focus on the conflicted and changing role of the letter as a private and public mode of written communication, the conference accommodates various perspectives: historical, anthropological, literary, archival, political, and many others. In this way, our consideration of correspondence will encompass the various digital and analogue methods for recording, interpreting, and presenting a specific material document and its inherent social connections, as well as an assessment of the ways in which recent developments in digital modes of communication have influenced, disrupted, or enhanced our relationship with this traditional form.

Confirmed speakers include: Professor Howard Hotson (Cultures of Knowledge); Miranda Lewis (Early Modern Letters Online); Dr Robert McNamee (Electronic Enlightenment), Dr Alison Pearn (Darwin Correspondence Project), Rupert Mann (Digital Programme Director, Oxford University Press), Kieron Smith (Digital Director, Blackwell’s).

Selected posters will be printed for display and informal discussion during an evening drinks reception at Wolfson College, and their scope could include (but is not limited to) the following correspondence-based topics:

  • Analysis of a letter or selection of letters (if present in the Bodleian collections, these materials could also be included in an exhibition accompanying the conference).
  • Methodologies for working with correspondence material in any field.
  • Consideration of letters as a source for life-writing or historical research.
  • Implications (theoretical or practical) of editing correspondence in digital or print media.
  • Presentation or discussion of digital manipulation of correspondence data and metadata (corpus and network analysis, visualizations, translation, etc.).
  • Reflections on the significance of correspondence within personal, public, or fictional lives.
  • Comparisons between letters and other (digital) forms of communication.

Please send abstracts of 200-300 words to posters [at] epistolary [dot] net outlining the research your poster will present, by Friday 13th May. Preference will be given to research that demonstrably crosses disciplinary boundaries and uses diverse techniques. Posters can be landscape or portrait and should be A1 size. Printing costs (if required) will be covered, as well as the presenter’s conference attendance and limited travel expenses.

URL of original post: http://www.e-pistolary.net/speaking-in-absence/call-for-posters/

More information about the conference: http://www.e-pistolary.net/speaking-in-absence/

Upcoming workshop: The graphic evidence of childhood, 1760-1914

Palatine Learning Centre
Durham University
Friday, 15 April 2016

This event is sponsored by Durham University’s Institute of Advanced Study, the Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies, the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture, and the Department of Philosophy.


8:45-9:20 Coffee


Dr Matthew Daniel Eddy
Durham University

9:30-11:00 SESSION 1

Chair and Comments
Dr Matthew Daniel Eddy
Durham University

Prof Matthew Grenby
Newcastle University
Looking Glass for the Mind, or Unintellectual Mirror:
Interpreting Children’s Marginalia

Prof Kathryn Gleadle
Oxford University
Tactical agents?
Juvenile Creativity and the Politics of the Diary

11:00-11:30 Coffee Break

11:30-1:00 SESSION 2

Chair and Comments
Dr Lutz Sauerteig, Durham University

Dr Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig
Durham University
The Correspondence of J.G. Herder’s Children – A Family Matter

Dr Siân Pooley
Oxford University
‘Letters are thought-bearers’:
Feeling, Thinking and Printing in England c.1870-1914

1:00-2:00 Lunch

2:00-4:00 SESSION 3

Chair and Comments
Dr Melanie Keene, Cambridge University

Dr Barbara Gribling
Durham University
Playing with the Past:
Toys, Games and Children’s Engagement with British History

Prof Barbara Wittmann
Humbolt University, Berlin
Children’s Drawings and the Human Sciences

Dr Rebecca Gowland and Benn Penny-Mason
Durham University
Excluded Bodies:
Bioarchaeological Evidence for Physical and Cognitive Impediments to Education


The history of childhood has become an important field of study in recent years. One of its exciting characteristics is that it attracts researchers from a rich variety of disciplines, including the humanities, the social sciences and the human sciences. Consequently, the history of childhood emotion, puberty, selfhood, health and agency has become more visible, both inside and outside the academy. Yet, with the rising popularity of childhood history comes a growing concern about the kinds of evidence that can be used to reconstruct the lives of children. This concern is increasingly intimated by scholars who research the material and visual foundations of childhood. They point out that many histories of pre-twentieth-century childhood often fail to engage directly with evidence that was made or (conclusively) used by girls and boys, either in specialised settings or on a daily basis.

This workshop seeks to develop and extend the material and visual history of childhood by focusing on the kinds of graphic evidence that was made or used by children during the 18th and 19th centuries. The notion of ‘graphic’ will be interpreted widely to mean the instruments, skills or materials used to manually represent knowledge on paper (or similar forms of media) through writing or drawing. The papers will discuss how graphic artefacts can be used as childhood evidence and/or to what extent graphic materials and techniques can be used to historicise how children experienced the world through the act of making or using an object. To keep the discussion focused, each speaker is invited to concentrate on a specific graphic genre of her choosing, and to consider how the genre can be used to analyse the legitimacy and efficacy of current methods used to reconstruct the history of childhood.

The registration fee includes tea breaks and lunch. To register, please send your name, institutional affiliation, postal address, email address and £15 cash to: Ms Laura Dearlove, Department of Philosophy, 50/51 Old Elvet, Durham, DH1 3HN, UK. For health and safety reasons, all payments must be received no later than Monday 11 April 2015.

For further information, please contact the workshop organiser, Dr Matthew Daniel Eddy, at m.d.eddy@durham.ac.uk

Information sourced via the Children’s History Society UK

CA: Epistolary cultures (18-19 March 2016, York)

Title of conference: Epistolary cultures – letters and letter-writing in early modern Europe
Organisers: Dr Freya Sierhuis (freya.sierhuis@york.ac.uk); Dr Kevin Killeen (kevin.killeen@york.ac.uk)
Date: 18. – 19. 03. 2016
Location: The Tree House, Berrick Saul Building

Description: From the place of Cicero’s intimate letters in the development of Renaissance humanism, to the knowledge networks of merchants, collectors and scientists, to the role of women in the republic of letters, recent years have seen a flowering of studies on the practice of letter-writing in Early Modern Europe, as well as major editing projects of early modern letters – Hartlib, Comenius, Scaliger, Casaubon, Browne, Greville, and the EMLO and Cultures of Knowledge projects. This conference will explore the many aspects of early modern epistolary culture in the sixteenth and seventeenth century in its Latin and vernacular forms. It will consider topics such as the intellectual geographies of letter-writing, the connections between vernacular and Latin letter cultures, questions of genre, rhetoric and style, as well as the political, religious, and scientific uses of letters.

This conference brings together speakers, both established and emergent, from around the globe, who are working on early modern letter writing and its networks, whether professional, for personal and intimate communication, or within scientific and humanist cultures. Strands of the conference will explore the material forms of writing, letter writing theory, and the importance and use of existing collections. Speakers come from a multitude of disciplines and one key goal of the conference will be consider how these disparate areas respond to early modern letter writing theory and practice.

The conference includes a workshop, which involves hands-on reconstruction of early modern letter writing devices for ‘letter-locking’ using paper, wax and seals, led by a team from MIT and Oxford.


This information was originally published on the website of the Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies, University of York (CREMS); a conference programme and further information can be found there.

CA: ‘Wie immer Ihr Th. F.’, Potsdam (Germany), 17-19 September 2014

Conference: ‘Wie immer Ihr Th. F.’ Theodor Fontanes Briefe im Kontext
Date: 17.09.2014 – 19.09.2014
Organized by: the Theodor-Fontane-Archive & the Theodor Fontane Society in cooperation with the Institut für Germanistik at Potsdam University
Venue: Potsdam University, Campus Griebnitzsee, Haus 6
Basic conference fee: € 60 (free for students)

Information on additional fees (for the conference dinner, participation in an excursion, attendance at a reading/concert etc.) and the programme can be found here.

If you have any questions about the conference or would like to register please contact:

Rainer Falk
Villa Quandt
Große Weinmeisterstr. 46/47
14469 Potsdam

Updates regarding the programme will be publicised via the organizers’ websites http://www.fontanearchiv.de & http://www.fontane-gesellschaft.de .

Jana Dambrogio on ‘Letterlocking: the art and security of letter writing’ (guest post)

What is ‘letterlocking’?
Letterlocking refers to the process by which a substrate has been folded and secured shut to function as its own envelope. Letterlocking is part of a 10,000 year-old information security tradition, ranging from Mesopotamian clay bullae to internet Bitcoin. Locked paper documents have been used in cultures throughout the world since the late Middle Ages by regents, their secretaries, spymasters, soldiers, and the general public. Oftentimes the same person used more than one letterlocking format, some more secure than others. Why? Documenting the physical evidence – the tiny slits, folds, and cut-off corners – of well-preserved ‘opened’ original manuscripts helps to define their different ‘closed’ locking formats. Collaboration with experts in allied professions helps to figure out the significance of letters as artifacts in a specific moment in history.

A note on Jana Dambrogio
Jana Dambrogio is the Thomas F. Peterson (1957) Conservator for Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Her work with Dr Daniel Starza Smith of Lincoln College, Oxford, on John Donne’s letterlocking techniques brought her to Oxford for Smith and Dambrogio’s participation in the international symposium ‘What is a letter? An interdisciplinary approach’ in Oxford this past July.

Workshops on letterlocking and further information
Jana lectures and teaches workshops internationally on her process of making models to understand the physical nuances of historic letters and archival bindings and discusses how conservators preserve their function and format for access and interpretation. Workshop participants have a hand at ‘un-locking’  and securing shut models of several types of locked letters with varying levels of built-in security devices based on historic examples. Resources are available on a letterlocking website and a YouTube channel which feature a growing reference collection of documents and bindings in motion.

PS from MI Matthews-Schlinzig: There is another great blog post on this topic, ‘Let’s make a model’, which was co-written by Dr Heather Wolfe (Curator of Manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library) and Jana Dambrogio.


The photos in this post were all taken at the letterlocking workshop Jana Dambrogio and Dr Daniel Starza Smith gave at the symposium ‘What is a letter? An interdisciplinary approach’.

New publication: Jörg Schuster, ‘Kunstleben’. Zur Kulturpoetik des Briefs um 1900 […]

Schuster Briefkultur Cover


The following publication might be of interest to researchers working on letter writing cultures around 1900:

Jörg Schuster, ‘Kunstleben’. Zur Kulturpoetik des Briefs um 1900 – Korrespondenzen Hugo von Hofmannsthals und Rainer Maria Rilkes (Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2014)

For a short description (in German) see literaturkritik.de.


CFP: The beauty of letters […] , 14 – 15 March 2015, Birmingham (UK)

Conference title: The beauty of letters – text, type and communication in the eighteenth century; The Baskerville Society’s 2nd two-day conference
Organised by: Professor Caroline Archer (caroline.archer@bcu.ac.uk) and Dr Malcolm Dick m.m.dick@bham.ac.uk
Date/place: 14–15 March 2015, Birmingham (UK)
Deadline for submitting abstracts: 1 July 2014

In his preface to Paradise Lost (1758), John Baskerville described himself as ‘an admirer of the beauty of letters’. This conference takes his phrase as a starting point to explore the production, distribution, consumption and reception, not only of letters, but also words, texts and images during the long eighteenth century (c. 1688-1820). This conference will consider how writing, printing, performance and portrayal contributed to the creation of cultural identity and taste, assisted the spread of knowledge and contributed to political, economic, social and cultural change in Britain and the wider world.

Writing: teaching of writing and penmanship; styles of handwritten script; copybooks; shorthand; handwritten documents such as Continue reading