Tag Archives: materiality

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.

URL of original post: https://www.manuscript-cultures.uni-hamburg.de/register_letters2018.html

COST Action: Reassembling the Republic of Letters; Second Annual Conference (Warsaw)

12th – 15th June 2016, University of Warsaw Conference Room, Level -1.
Faculty of “Artes Liberales”
Dobra Street 72

From the conference programme:

The COST Action IS 1310 “Reassembling the Republic of Letters” is in its third year of work towards assembling the blueprint of trans-national digital infrastructure to support collaborative work on early modern intellectual history. Having previously explored scholarly work from the perspective of shared technical standards, this conference will pursue the opposite path: digital functionality will be discussed from the perspective of current scholarly strands about the Republic of Letters. Following the structural logic of the Action’s working groups, the topics addressed will include (amongst others) intellectual geography; the social history of knowledge and network analysis; topic modelling and conceptual history; descriptive techniques and the material turn; visualization and the visual turn.

The full conference programme is available here.

URL of project website: http://www.republicofletters.net

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: Philatelie als Kulturwissenschaft – Berlin 01/16

Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung
15.01.2016-16.01.2016, Berlin, Museum für Kommunikation Berlin,
Leipziger Str. 16, 10117 Berlin

Obwohl Erfindung und Verwendung der Briefmarke die Kommunikation in der
Moderne geprägt haben, ist ihre Bedeutung in den Kunst-, Kultur- und
Sozialwissenschaften kaum gewürdigt worden. Im Gegensatz zur Numismatik
ist die Philatelie keine akademische Disziplin geworden, da Briefmarken
- anders als Münzen - keine lange, in die Antike zurückweisende
Tradition haben. In dieser Hinsicht lässt sich die Briefmarke mit der
Photographie vergleichen. Beide haben sich seit etwa 1840 als neue
Bildmedien etabliert, beide wurden von den etablierten Wissenschaften
und Künsten über Jahrzehnte hinweg ignoriert. Doch sind Fotos inzwischen
Gegenstand unzähliger Untersuchungen in unterschiedlichen Disziplinen

Wie im Falle der Photographie haben sich zunächst vor allem akademische
Außenseiter mit Briefmarken beschäftigt. Unter ihnen ragen aus heutiger
Sicht Aby Warburg und Walter Benjamin hervor, die unabhängig voneinander
1927 Überlegungen zur historischen, politischen und ästhetischen
Bedeutung des Gegenstands formuliert haben: Warburg in einem Vortrag,
der eng mit seinem letzten Dokumentationsprojekt, dem Bilderatlas
»Mnemosyne«, verknüpft war; Benjamin in einem Feuilleton-Beitrag, den er
in sein Aphorismen-Buch »Einbahnstraße« (1928), einem frühen Versuch zur
Diagnose der Moderne, übernahm.

In beiden Fällen handelt es sich um knappe Ideenskizzen, deren Bedeutung
lange Zeit übersehen wurde: Warburg veröffentlichte seinen Vortrag
nicht, Benjamins Formulierungen waren stark poetischer Natur. Dennoch
werden hier erstmals Theorien skizziert, die in der neueren Kunst- und
Kulturgeschichtsschreibung herausragende Bedeutung bekommen haben: die
massenhafte Reproduktion und die globale Verbreitung von Bildern, die
Bedeutung populärer Bilder als Ausdruck kollektiver Denk- und
Vorstellungswelten, das Sammeln als kulturanthropologisches Phänomen,
die Dokumentation alltäglicher Gebrauchsgegenstände als Grundlage der
Kulturgeschichtsschreibung, Mikrologie als Methode philologischer und
kulturwissenschaftlicher Analyse.

Das Kolloquium wird die Ideen Warburgs und Benjamins aufgreifen, um den
kulturhistorischen, politischen und ästhetischen Status der Briefmarke
zu analysieren.

Eine Tagung des Zentrums für Literatur- und Kulturforschung Berlin (ZfL)
in Kooperation mit dem Museum für Kommunikation Berlin

Konzept und Organisation: Dirk Naguschewski, Detlev Schöttker (ZfL)

Mit freundlicher Unterstützung durch SCHLEGEL - Berliner Auktionshaus
für Philatelie

Freitag, 15.01.2016
(Öffnungszeiten des Museums 9.00-17.00)

Oliver Götze (MfK)/ Dirk Naguschewski (ZfL)/ Detlev Schöttker (ZfL):

Moderation: Dirk Naguschewski (ZfL)

Andreas Hahn (Archiv für Philatelie Bonn): Essenz einer Nation? Die
Germania-Marken des Deutschen Reichs

Detlev Schöttker (ZfL): Politische Philatelie in der Weimarer Republik.
John Heartfield und Wieland Herzfelde

Moderation: Detlev Schöttker (ZfL)

Gottfried Gabriel (Jena):  Die politische Bildersprache der Briefmarken

Oliver Götze (MfK): Post von d'Annunzio. Propaganda auf Briefmarken des
Freistaates Fiume, 1919-1924

Moderation: Oliver Götze (MfK)

Franz-Josef Pütz (Berlin): Briefmarken als Medium der Kommunikation. Das
Beispiel Afghanistan seit 1928

Roman Siebertz (Bonn): Briefmarken als politisches Medium. Das Beispiel

Silke Plate (Bremen): Visuelles Protest-Medium. Die
»Untergrundbriefmarken« der polnischen Oppositionsbewegung der 1980er

Samstag, 16.01.2016
(Öffnungszeiten des Museums 10.00-18.00)

Moderation: NN

Steffen Haug (HU Berlin): Die philatelistische Korrespondenz Warburgs

Frank Zöllner (Leipzig): Die Geburt der Bildwissenschaft aus dem Geist
der Philatelie? Aby Warburg und die Briefmarke

Michael Diers (HfbK Hamburg/HU Berlin): Meerfabrik und Fieberkram.
Briefmarkenzeichen bei Warburg, Benjamin und in der Nachfolge

Moderation: Margarete Vöhringer (ZfL)

Isabella Woldt (Warburg Institute London): Von der Tapisserie bis zur
Briefmarke. Warburgs Florentiner Vortrag von 1927

Tom Steinert (TU Berlin): Komplexe graphische Repräsentation im Werk von
Otto Rohse

Moderation: Eva Geulen (ZfL)

Dirk Naguschewski (ZfL): Markenkunst

Ulrike Vedder (HU Berlin): Plot und Paranoia. Zur historiographischen
Funktion literarischer Briefmarken bei Pynchon, Roth und Schrott

Tagung - Philatelie als Kulturwissenschaft

URL zur Zitation dieses Beitrages

‘Gifts from the abbey’ – A presentation by Lena Vosding


Foto: Lüneburger Klosterarchive, © Kloster Lüne

At the symposium ‘What is a letter? An interdisciplinary approach’ (2–4 July 2014, Oxford), Lena Vosding M.A. (Düsseldorf, Germany) gave a paper entitled ‘Gifts from the abbey: the letters of the Benedictine nuns in Lüne (1460 – 1550)’. Below is a summary of the paper which Ms Vosding has kindly provided.

If your research is also concerned with medieval letter books similar to the one presented here, Ms Vosding would love to hear from you; her contact details can be found at end of this post.

Gifts from the abbey: the letters of the Benedictine nuns in Lüne (1460 – 1550)
[summary by L. Vosding]

In my paper I presented the hitherto unedited and little known letterbook of the Benedictine convent in Lüne (near Lüneburg, Germany) into which the medieval nuns copied a significant amount of their written communication in the period between approximately 1460 and 1550 (Lüne convent archive, MS 15, MS 30 and MS 31). In three volumes there are about 1.800 copies of letters or letter fragments, some written in Latin, some in Low German. They cover a broad range of topics and addressees: there are letters to and from other convents, to and from the provost, the Lüne town council, the bishop, the duke, or families and relatives of the nuns. The letters deal with economic or legal matters, donations, liturgical practice, conflicts, friendship, spiritual edification, and theological interpretation of key social events such as childbirth, death, marriage, or investiture. There seems to be a connection between the chosen language and the respective addressees: correspondence with the Duke, the town-council or other laymen is written in the vernacular, while correspondence with the provost, the bishop, other clerics and the neighbouring monasteries is held in Latin. The communication with other convents is predominantly written in a mixture of Latin and the vernacular.

By examining two selected letters I tried to provide an insight into the characteristics and significance of this extensive collection. The first is typical of many letters which concern the community’s economic and judicial interests: on 15th September 1525, Sister Gertrud Brome urged her lay relative to cease his attempts to prevent their confessor from receiving a fief granted by a sister or resident of the convent (see an image of the manuscript (© Kloster Lüne); transcription/translations). The second, longer letter, which congratulates the daughter of one of the convent’s benefactors (and possibly one of the nun’s relatives) upon her wedding, is a typical model letter: there are no dates or names given and it seems to be compiled from at least three different sources (see an image of the manuscript (© Kloster Lüne); transcription/translations).

A close reading of both texts suggests the meaning which the letters had for the nuns: on the one hand, for them, their letters were a medium that enabled them to be present in places they could not personally reach due to their strict enclosure. It kept the essential networks – whether they be theological, social, or judicial – of their convent alive. On the other hand, they understood their letters as the materialization of what their particular task was as late medieval nuns: the spiritual care, the intercession for clerics and laymen. For the nuns these texts served, finally, as proof of their adherence to the official rules for the convent’s communication with the outside world which were laid down by the bishop in 1462 (Doc. no. 578, in: Brosius, Dieter (ed.): Urkundenbuch des Klosters Lüne, Hannover 2011, pp. 499–500).


Foto: Lüneburger Klosterarchive, © Kloster Lüne

All these aspects might have been reasons for the nuns to collect letters they had sent and received from the 1460s onward. Furthermore the copies in the letterbook probably had an additional function: It seems quite plausible that the letterbook was created in response to an external threat: it was evidently composed over a single period of time – not until the 1530s -, and this was when the convent was being confronted by the Reformation. As a collection, bound as a book, the letters therefore served to support the nuns’ self-reflection, their sense of purpose in the world and – as model for future communication – their composure and self-control at a time when the existence of their convent was called into question.

But these ideas only address one aspect of the letterbook’s function. It became obvious in the course of the discussion following my paper that there are still many more aspects to be investigated: for instance the collection also contains peculiar texts such as a short letter about a wild sow in a nun’s cell (see an image of the manuscript and a transcription/translation, © Kloster Lüne). This comprehensive analytical task will form the subject of my doctoral thesis, which will deliver the first analysis of the manuscript so that we can hopefully soon better understand the nuns of Lüne and their letterbook.

An edition of the Lüne Letters is planned by Prof. Dr. Eva Schlotheuber (Düsseldorf).

Contact details:
Lena Vosding M.A.
Institut für Geschichtswissenschaften I
Gebäude 23.31, Ebene 06, Raum 80
Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf
Universitätsstr. 1
40225 Düsseldorf
0049 (0) 211–81–12931

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’.

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

CFP: Letters: Making and Meanings

Date/Venue: 27 June 2014, Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, London
Organised by: Charlotte Brown and Zoe Thomas, Royal Holloway, University of London
Deadline for submitting proposals: 5 May 2014
Contact: makinglettersmakingmeanings@gmail.com

Abstracts are invited for twenty-minute papers for the workshop Letters: Making and Meanings, 1700-present day. The workshop explores how the physical process of creating a letter could build meaning as significant as the words themselves. Letters: Making and Meanings engages with the lively current scholarship on the history of emotions and material culture to explore the semiotic significance of the physical and material presence of letters.

We wish to encourage cross-disciplinary participation from archive and museum professionals, scholars of history, palaeography, material culture, the emotions and other relevant disciplines. The day will include practical workshops by the Institute of Historical Research and the British Postal Museum and Archive.

Please send a 200 word abstract and a brief biographical note to makinglettersmakingmeanings@gmail.com by 5 May 2014.

Possible topics may include:
•Practical processes such as handwriting, folding, delivery and writing conventions.
•Tools such as paper, pens, seals, and stamps
•Inserted objects such as newspaper clippings, and love tokens.
•Themes relating to life-cycles, lifestyles, business and personal transactions, identity and the self, gender, consumption, transnational experiences, emotions and memory.

Letters: Making and Meanings is organised by Charlotte Brown and Zoe Thomas, Royal Holloway, University of London. With the generous support of the Centre for the Study of the Body and Material Culture, RHUL.

Source: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/shs/shs-news/call-for-papers-letters-making-and-meanings

CFP: Workshop: ‘The Materiality of Writing’ – Liverpool 06/14

Title: Postgraduate and Early Career Researcher Workshop: ‘The Materiality of Writing’
Organized by: Eighteenth-Century Worlds Research Centre, University of Liverpool
Date and place: 05.06.2014 – 07.06.2014, Liverpool, Athenaeum Library
Deadline for submitting proposals: 25 April 2014
Contact: Helga Müllneritsch (helgamue@liv.ac.uk)

Description: This workshop will be hosted in the Library of the Liverpool Athenaeum, which was founded in 1797 to provide ‘the conveniences and accommodation for the acquisition of knowledge…in a town of such commercial and national importance as Liverpool’. It will be introduced by a public lecture delivered by Professor Dena Goodman (Michigan) entitled ‘Thinking of You: Objects, Memory and Epistolary Inspiration’. The second keynote speaker for the workshop will be Dr Annie Mattsson (Uppsala).

Recent research in a range of fields – ‘literatory life’, ‘the little tools of knowledge’, practices of state-making and bureaucracy, the documentation of personal identity, the uses of the pen in private and domestic contexts such as letter-writing, the shapings of domestic space and material culture, to name a few – have sparked interest in the act (or labour) of writing as an everyday practice that involves very particular interactions between mind, body, place and technology. We aim to bring together new research that allows us to reflect on how a ‘material’ approach to the uses of the pen might help us to understand the processes through which meaning and modernity were constructed in the long 18th century.

Themes might include:
– technologies of writing – pens, ink, paper, furniture
– personal and informal manuscript forms in everyday life – Stammbücher, commonplace books, marginalia, letters, diaries, account books
– penmanship, handwriting, graphology – the aesthetics and politics of legibility and indexicality
– signatures as ways of establishing identity, expressing individuality and witnessing
– occupational diseases of writers, clerical workers and scribes
– public manuscript genres and the persistence of manuscript reproduction in an age of print
– learning and teaching writing skills
– moving writing: the aesthetic and emotional significance of the postal service
– Who may and may not write? – the literate slave and other issues of power

Case studies are invited from all disciplines and covering any period within the long 18th century (ca 1650 to 1850). Contributions from all national contexts and those that explore global contexts for written communication are welcome. Refreshments and lunch will be provided. For further information, or to submit a proposal, please contact Helga Müllneritsch (helgamue@liv.ac.uk). Proposals should be submitted by 25 April 2014.

Helga Muellneritsch
University of Liverpool

Website of the 18th-Century Worlds Research Centre

URL of original post: