Wednesday, June 04, 2008

“I remain, &c”: Addressing the Eighteenth-Century Letter

St Edmund Hall, Oxford
11th-12th September 2008

We invite proposals for an upcoming conference on eighteenth-century letters.

Whether viewed as the dominant carrier of polite discourse, an expression of the self, or simply a markedly accessible literary form, the letter in the long eighteenth century has been the recent focus of critical study. Recent work by scholars such as Clare Brant and Lisa Jardine, and institutions such as the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters, attests to the potential of this written body of evidence for truly representative study of the period.

This conference interrogates eighteenth-century letters as material artefacts, their means of circulation, and pursues the theoretical ramifications of that interrogation. In addition, it will provide graduate students with guidance on how they may incorporate letters into their own research, through practical advice (where and how to find them) and practice-based seminar papers (scholars discussing their methodologies). The conference will consist of four distinct (but not sealed) sections:

“That word interlined is morning”: Writing letters

Are letters immediate or for posterity? Handwritten or printed? Intimate or declamatory? The letter eludes generic sorting; how do we address the issues surrounding the epistolary voice? Possible paper topics may include

- The consonance (or dissonance) of epistolary style with recipient, or purpose.
- Lives and letters; lives in letters; biography and editing.
- Letter writers calling attention to the material process of letter writing
- Letters as anthologies, commonplace books, or literary criticism
- The institutions governing (or failing to govern) the writing of letters.
- Anonymity/pseudonymity; amanuenses and scribes; forgeries
- Letters and the state.

Through the Lion’s Mouth: Circulating/Sending letters

Letters are a circulatory form. The means of distribution of letters can have a huge effect upon their meaning. Possible paper topics may include:

- The post office; the coffee house; coteries
- State correspondence; espionage; censorship
- Overseas and domestic letters
- Words and things: letters accompanying goods; letters accompanying people; letters accompanying books.
- The lives of letters: sending, receiving, stealing, collecting, selling, archiving, publishing.

“Such bold and lively Strokes”: Reading letters

How/where/when did recipients read letters? How do we read letters, or read the readings of letters? Possible paper topics may include:

- Letters in the litter: the billet-doux.
- Letters and the body: the swung-dash; the construction of intimacy/enmity
- Shared/stolen readership of letters: reading aloud; letter’s and literacy; forwarding; copying out
- Letters and the law; letters and faith
- Imagined, desired, or figured readers
- Translating letters

“Podefar was misken”: Sorting Letters

The conference will conclude with a round-table discussion led by specialists in the field addressing the different uses of letters in research (finding letters in the archive, different forms of publication, theories of letters). Researchers will reflect upon their own practice and provide professional guidance, with discussion to follow.

We welcome proposals for 20 minute papers, particularly from graduate students. Closing date for submissions is Friday 27th June. Please send proposals of no more than 250 words to:

Stephen Bernard (Brasenose)
Claudine van Hensbergen (St Edmund Hall)
John McTague (St Catherine’s College)


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