At a time when writing letters seems an activity of the past, scholars are becoming more and more interested in reading the manuscript correspondence of historical men and women: from famous authors to ordinary people. But how can new technology help critics and historians to understand, interpret and engage with these letters, and to trace networks and connections among the almost limitless texts that can be preserved and searched in archives? And what roles are there for editors and publishers of letters in a world of ‘digital correspondence’?
Oxford postgraduate students Helen Brown and Olivia Thompson have won a Post-Graduate Conference Grant, funded by The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) and The Oxford Centre for Life-Writing (OCLW) (https://www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/oclw), to run an event in June 2016 exploring these questions. The grant was awarded in an annual TORCH/OCLW competition that gives research students in the Humanities at Oxford the opportunity to propose and run a conference on an innovative and interdisciplinary theme linked to their work. Previous winning proposals, which went on to become successful academic events, explored topics including ‘Silence in the Archives: Censorship and Suppression in Women’s Life-Writing’ (http://torch.ox.ac.uk/silence-archives) and ‘Procrastination.’ (https://oxlifewriting.wordpress.com/2014/09/04/guest-post-procrastination-conference-at-oclw/).
This year’s conference, ‘Digital Correspondence,’ will consider the implications of digital presentation of letters for data and metadata curation and analysis. It will also outline the various formats by which letters can be made available digitally, and investigate the insight that digitized correspondence can provide to the cultural milieu in which it was produced. Helen, a researcher in English at Hertford, explains that she met Olivia, a classicist at Balliol, at a Cambridge conference called ‘Digital Editing Now.’ Since they were both working on digital-print editions of correspondence, they “decided to apply together in order to continue the conversation in Oxford”. As conference organisers they aim “to facilitate communication between academics, archivists, and publishers” in a conference that will span disciplines, periods, and professions.
TORCH Director Elleke Boehmer said that she was delighted with the high quality and originality of the proposal, and noted that the conference’s digital theme would expand and enrich some of the questions posed by other events in the ongoing TORCH series, Humanities and the Digital Age (http://torch.ox.ac.uk/digital-age).
‘Digital Correspondence’ will take place at the Radcliffe Humanities Building and Wolfson College, Oxford. More details will be available soon.