Digital Correspondence: transhistorical perspectives on language, materials and corpora

Coordinators: Mel Evans (University of Leeds), Rachele De Felice (Open University) and Helen Newsome (University College Dublin)

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Correspondence, both historical and contemporary, provides a window on human interactions, our personal experiences and social lives. This group explores the linguistic and material facets of correspondence, broadly defined, to understand more about communication practices across the centuries. We focus not only on what was written, and by who, but also how these texts create meaning. We welcome explorations of correspondence from across the centuries and in diverse media (handwriting, print, digital) and evaluate what language analysis can tell us: what are the trends, the themes, the shared concerns over time? How are language resources used to convey identity, construct relationships, and achieve aims and objectives, spanning the personal and the political? 

Digital tools are at the heart of our explorations. Corpus collections, including letters, print epistles, emails, and text messages, have transformed our ability to describe and interpret this text type. We explore how our data and its digitization enables or impedes our ability to research effectively. Key themes for discussion and potential development include the factors shaping the availability of correspondence data and how to accommodate that in the creation of correspondence corpora; the capacity to format and capture linguistic and other semiotic modes efficiently, transparently and accessibly; and the areas of interest that digital investigations, in particular, can open up for those working with correspondence across academia, cultural heritage organisations, archives and education.