International Symposium – What is a Letter?

What is a letter? An interdisciplinary approach
St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, 2-4 July 2014
Deadline for submitting abstracts: 3 March 2014

Over recent years the number of studies, conferences, international networks, and editorial projects which focus on letters, letter writers, and letter-writing cultures has grown remarkably. As a result, our understanding of the letter as a form of text, as a material object, and as a generator or reflector of social norms and cultural practices has become more nuanced. However, at the same time our concept of the letter has become less well defined, as theoretical aspects of the epistolary form have not received comparable attention. The topical, interdisciplinary discussion of what exactly a ‘letter’ is and what terms and methods one should adopt to deal with it, is still very much in its infancy.
There are many questions to answer: how – if at all – can we conceptualize letters as a genre, and what is to be gained from that? What characteristics of letter-writing are relevant across disciplines? What are the key frames of reference in the process: single letter, correspondence, or ‘epistolarium’ (Liz Stanley)? In what ways do variable transmission processes – including the collection, archiving, editing, or exhibition of letters – influence our perception of the epistolary? Finally, and this is perhaps the most important question, how does one approach a type of text which is used both as a pragmatic and as a literary form and which is rooted in historical reality while at the same time retaining its potential to deploy fictional qualities?
In order to address these and related questions, the symposium aims to bring together scholars from a variety of disciplines and countries, and from universities and public institutions, for an exchange of knowledge which will lay the foundations for an inclusive and interdisciplinary model of and methodology for analysing letters. The symposium will primarily consider and compare theories and practices of letter-writing from the eighteenth to the twenty-first centuries, but proposals relating to earlier periods are also welcome. We invite papers (20–25 minutes in length) which address aspects of letters and letter-writing against this background. Analyses of theoretical aspects of letters as a type of text are welcome on their own or in the context of a case study or studies.
We would expressly like to invite scholars from the following disciplines to submit a proposal: linguistics, philosophy, psychology, medicine, sociology, theology, media studies, law, history of art, history (including, in particular, postal history), editorial studies, cultural studies, and modern languages (including English).
Possible topics include, but are not limited to:
* Genre typology
* Types of letters, themes of letters
* Relationships between pragmatic and literary qualities in and of letters
* The effect of editing/archiving/exhibiting letters (practices and processes) on defining the genre (and vice versa)
* Aspects of transmission
* Letters in competition with other media
English and German are the working languages of the symposium, and an interpreter will be present to summarize papers and assist with the discussion. The papers will be published in a conference volume. We hope that the international and interdisciplinary focus of the symposium will lead to further collaborative projects.
If you are interested in giving a paper, please send an abstract of no more than 350 words plus a short paragraph with bio-bibliographical information to:
Dr Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig (Oxford), isabel.matthews-schlinzig@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk
Caroline Socha (Heidelberg), caroline.socha@gs.uni-heidelberg.de
The deadline for submitting abstracts is 3 March 2014.
Please note: travel expenses and accommodation costs will, in all likelihood, not be reimbursed; St Edmund Hall has agreed to offer speakers single en-suite rooms (including breakfast) at a discounted rate.
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