Culture & History Digital Journal, Vol 1, No 2 (2012)

New Directions in the History of Written Culture


https://doi.org/10.3989/chdj.2012.007

Martyn Lyons
School of Humanities, University of New South Wales, Australia

Abstract


This article reviews some new directions in the history of writing practices, concentrating on Western Europe and the Americas in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I identify some major intellectual influences on the field, deriving from historiography, anthropology and literary studies. I indicate some important archives specialising in popular writings which sustain the study of the writings of ordinary and semi-literate people. A few selected topics in which the history of writing practices makes a contribution are then briefly reviewed. These are, firstly, the history of correspondence and letter-writing instruction manuals, which introduces two important concepts: the ‘epistolary pact’ and ‘epistolary literacy’. Secondly, I introduce three new works on the development of postal services, stressing their role in forging national cohesion. Thirdly, I indicate how the study of emigrants’ writings has contributed to a shift of focus in the study of emigration in general. I conclude that the history of scribal culture can make a significant contribution to socio-cultural history, provided that writing is analysed in its material form, and as a text, not simply as a source of information. Writing practices deserve serious study as a social and cultural phenomenon in their own right.

Keywords


Correspondence; World War One; Emigration; Modern France; Modern Italy; Modern Spain

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