CFP: ‘Letters & Letter Writing: Signed, Sealed, Delivered’

The following CFP may be of interest to RECSO followers:

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                           Sunday 22nd March – Tuesday 24th March 2015
                                                         Lisbon, Portugal

The conference is part of the At the Interface programme of research projects. It aims to bring together people from different areas and interests to share ideas and explore various discussions which are innovative and exciting.

Call for Presentations
In the eighteenth century, the letter, which had been the foremost medium of long-distance communication since antiquity, came to be considered as a particularly intimate, natural, and authentic form of expression and communication, capable of providing unadulterated insights into the writer’s mind. Epistolary novels dominated the literary market, and the letters of celebrated public figures became equally popular reading material. ‘In a man’s letters, you know, Madam, his soul lies naked, his letters are only the mirror of his breast, whatever passes within him is shown undisguised in its natural process’, Samuel Johnson wrote in a letter to Hester Thrale in 1777. Today, this idealisation of the letter’s natural spontaneity and authenticity seems naïve at best. Letters can be manipulated as well as manipulative; they can be intercepted, censored, or fatally misread; a letter-writer might engage in histrionic self-dramatisation or active deception; genuine epistolary expression might be compromised by linguistic, social, cultural, sexual, and moral conventions alike. Letters can be almost completely impersonal, as in the case of spam mail, business communications, bills, circulars, or newsletters. And, of course, even when a correspondent believes himself or herself to be completely genuine at the moment of writing a letter, the recipient might still read a profoundly unreliable document, since the fixed materiality of the letter clashes with the mutability of the human mind and heart.

Letters are central to research in many disciplines yet have rarely been addressed in a genuinely multi-disciplinary way. The first interdisciplinary conference on letters and letter writing opened up a number of interesting avenues of inquiry. From Roman epistles to neo-epistolarity; from high Victorian fiction to literary modernism; from concentration camps to asylums; the letter has a bewildering variety of functions, forms and meanings. We would like to continue this dialogue by opening up a call for presentations around issues arising out of this discussion.

Proposals of 300 words are invited for this inter-disciplinary conference on the following themes for any historical period or geographical location:

  • What is a letter?
  • Social class or status and letter writing
  • The materiality of letters and letter-writing: letters on ostraca (potsherds), tablets, papyri, vellum; handwritten letters versus typewritten letters; the significance of stamps, ink, envelopes, writing-desks and other paraphernalia of epistolary communication
  • Love letters / hate mail
  • Dear John…
  • Letters to oneself
  • Open letters
  • Famous letter writers, for example Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, the Brontës, Elizabeth Gaskell, Thackeray, Hardy, Eliot, Trollope, Wilkie Collins
  • The epistolary novel
  • Letters in literature
  • Letters in other art forms (e.g. letters in songs, envelope art)
  • Methods and networks of delivery/postal services?
  • Letters versus conversations
  • Letters and posterity
  • Communication across space and time
  • The role of letters in doing business
  • Letters in the internet age and digital letters
  • Letters and authorship
  • Editorial decisions in collecting letters
  • Letters as historical data
  • Methods of epistolary research

What to Send
300 word abstracts should be submitted by Friday 31st October 2014. All submissions are minimally double blind peer reviewed where appropriate. If an abstract is accepted for the conference, a full draft paper should be submitted by Friday 23rd January 2015.

For more details and where to send abstracts: http://www.inter-disciplinary.net/at-the-interface/education/letters-and-letter-writing/call-for-presentations/

About Jennifer Wood

Second year D.Phil. student in English, University College, Oxford. Thesis title: 'William Godwin and his Epistolary Circles: the Private Letter in the Romantic Period'. Supervised by: Prof. Nicholas Halmi and Prof. Pamela Clemit. Funding body: AHRC.
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