The Afterlives of Letters

  • James Daybell
Part of the Early Modern Literature in History book series (EMLH)


Early modern letters once composed and dispatched had a peculiar afterlife that is textual, historic and archival. Letters were preserved and archived by contemporaries in a range of ways. They were locked in muniments rooms, endorsed usually with the date and a brief note of contents then folded and placed in bundles; they were kept in studies or closets, referenced for ease of retrieval as part of complex filing systems; they were also hidden under beds in trunks, and even threaded on wire. This concern for preservation stimulated practices for safe-keeping correspondence. Recipe books of the period include instructions for how to preserve paper and how to treat it to prevent it from being eaten by mice. The kinds of formal letter-books and manuscript miscellanies, discussed in the previous chapter, should likewise be considered as ways of preserving correspondence. The process continues today in repositories, record offices and research institutions. Later generations of conservators, charged with the task of safeguarding their ‘archives’ for posterity have sought to intervene in various ways — washing paper, treating it with chemical preservatives, tightly binding individual letters into leather-bound volumes, attaching manuscripts to gauze — though current methods are far less intrusive. The reasons that motivated officials, individuals or families to keep their correspondence, range from the bureaucratic and legal to the more personal and sentimental. The chapter focuses on two main aspects relating to the preservation and afterlife of letters.


Resource Description Framework State Paper Material Letter British Library Digitisation Project 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© James Daybell 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • James Daybell
    • 1
  1. 1.Plymouth UniversityUSA

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