Correspondence & Communities

5 July 2018, Bangor University, Wales

The Epistolary Research Network (TERN) seeks to bring into discussion those involved in the study of letters and letter writing, as well as those participating in the creation or preservation of letters and epistolary collections. A letter, at its most basic, can be just a list of greetings – a few sentences to communicate that the sender is alive and well. Yet it can also be an eloquent literary composition intended for a select, public or posthumous audience. In all cases, the act of writing letters entails a package of processes (penning, sending, receiving, reading, archiving) and cultural norms (materiality, cost, literacy). The fact that letters – depending on who is writing, where and when they are writing, and to what purpose – can take an almost infinite variety of shapes goes some way to explaining why the format eludes easy definition and categorisation.

The theme of TERN’s inaugural symposium will be Correspondence & Communities. Communities might refer to the linking of groups or individuals who share common interests or facets of identity. Potential themes might include the communal reading of letters, exchanges between individuals and governing bodies concerning public issues or open letters. Equally, contributions might address one, or several, of the following questions:

  • - What is the dynamic of such communications? How are / were the groups made up? Who belonged to them? What does correspondence reveal about their distinctive collective identity?
  • - What impact did exchanges between members of epistolary groups have on our society? Did such groups inspire change, incite revolution, start wars or lead to important intellectual movements or scientific discoveries? 
  • - What role do / did letters play for those excluded or removed from society in belonging to a ‘community’? This might concern prisons, asylums, concentration camps, the spread or persecution of religion, or exile. How do / did letters help marginalised or excluded individuals negotiate relations with each other or the outside world?
  • - What role do / did postal services (in any form) have in influencing communications between these geographically, or culturally, separated individuals? What happened when no such services existed?

TERN invites 20-minute proposals on the above themes or that in any way engage with or challenge perceived notions surrounding Correspondence & Communities. We welcome proposals from academic scholars working in any discipline, as well as from independent scholars, creative practitioners, etc. Abstracts of 250-300 words should be sent to by 16 March 2018. Individual and 3-paper panel session proposals are welcome.