On the 15th and 16th of April Rachel Moss and Mark Rothery, both of the History department, hosted an online conference exploring letters in history, as primary sources and as themes for research. Over 100 delegates registered and attended the conference, it was very successful and enjoyable, we all learnt a lot! The delegates were a mix of postgraduate and early career researchers and more established academics.
We aimed to try to minimise screen time and to maximise the time we had for discussion so we limited the papers to 15 minutes and allowed several spaces for social time and more relaxed chat. Themes in the papers included the history of emotions, family relationships, gender and sexuality, health and disability and the collecting and archiving of letters.
We also had a fascinating plenary presentation from Professor Diane Watt (University of Surrey) in which she discussed her recent project on Margaret Paston and the very innovative and creative approach she was taking to that project, walking in the footsteps of the family and ‘rediscovering’ them in light of her recent experiences of mortality.
We closed the project with some concluding thoughts. We reflected on the amount of historical research that is using letters and correspondence and the high quality of that work. We thought about the way that letters, as a medium and historical sources, had allowed us to talk across disciplinary and chronological boundaries very successfully. Letters had brought us together, just as they brought people together and connected people in the past, forming relationships, sometimes helping to stretch and destroy relationships.
Rachel and Mark are planning an edited collection arising from the conference proceedings and that will hopefully reflect just how interesting and enjoyable the conference was!
Mark Rothery & Rachel Moss