vol. 18 no. 3, September, 2013

Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Conceptions of Library and Information Science, Copenhagen, Denmark, 19-22 August, 2013

Digitality, epistolarity and reconstituted letter archives

Marija Dalbello
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Department of Library and Information Science, 4 Huntington St., New Brunswick, NJ, 08901, USA

Introduction. The paper addresses the purpose of the digital archive by discussing the digital letter archives as a genre of digital collection and as the place for remediation of archival thought.
Method. Using textual and documentary analysis to describe successive prototypes of digital letter archives from the mid-1990s to date, to address assumptions inherent in their development.
Analysis. A whole range of letter collections from the first and the second wave of digital development is presented and "archive stories" are used to epitomize context and trends of digital humanities and digital letter collections.
Results. Remediation has poetic and aesthetic in addition to informational, instrumental and documentary dimensions in letter archives. There are multiple resistant layers in play attached to the epistolary form in the context of digital archive tied to the materiality and the letter form itself.
Conclusion. Digital archives point to new possibilities for reading letters as material traces of social interactions developed through emphasis of interpretive literary and cultural histories in digital letter collections of the first wave, and recovering networks of relations of the second wave. The possibilities for "distant reading" in the next generation of digital letter archives are presented in concluding programmatic statements.


Archives and letter collections

Digital archives are not an exception to the assumption that all archives are at the core constructed and invented reconstituted collections, in which presences as well as absences mold a space within which it is possible to imagine the life and times of others, and reach into the sentiment of époque (Williams 1977) through its most minute expressions as we live out the assumptions of our époque in the most mundane aspects of our daily lives (Denzin and Lincoln 1998: 240). Archival projects need to strive to create novel ways for absences to be uncovered and current archival orders to be made visible, and questioned.

Archival theory explores how such network of social relations and social practices is inscribed in documentary systems to provide a time-capsule that organizes traces of material memory and organizes (social) memory through processes of naming. This is an ontological – nomological function of the archive as the source and beginning.[1] Jacques Derrida, in his well-known critique of the archive as a stable trace and a record of beginning (arche), introduces the idea of a jussive (commanding) archive–one that carries the past into the future (1996). The physical archive is also the place of creation and invention of the record of the past, it is a disciplinary system in which culture is technologically constituted (Siegert 2008: 29). Re-mediation of paper to digital introduces interference, intervention, and re-arrangement that stimulates, engages and creates new contact points inherent in the nature of new media. For example archival projects can fashion critical engagement with digital objects through suggestive reconfigurations of digital objects through selection, editing, zooming, multi-medial associations and visualizations, and presenting other document data for contextualization in the lateral readings of the archive. The digital archive can prompt new reading of the guiding media (such as letters and letter culture) as they are reconfigured in digital form as a new cultural technique that is still in the process of being conceptualized (Siegert 2008: 29). The convergent media is the culture in which an archive can be rethought, reused, and remixed. Archive is as much a repository of material objects or their representations as it is a system of relationships. Archival thought remediated in a digital archive calls for rethinking the archive itself, bringing up the questions how digital archives are remediating the archive, what is the nature of that intervention, and its consequences for the public, for researchers, and for the archival thought itself. This paper discusses the purpose of the digital archive in the context of remediated letter archives.

In a traditional archive, letters are key documents of instrumental historiographies and the letter archive is relevant insofar as it performs evidentiary function in that traditional sense. They are often found objects, and therefore comprise an element of random reconstruction in any programme of reconstitution, which is what Antoinette Burton (2005) acknowledges to be the overall purpose of archival stories– i.e., stories of recovery being integral in any historiographic effort, including digital collections.

'Correspondence is distinguished from other documents by the fact that it is typically addressed to a specific individual or group, and is intended to be delivered by a third party (Society of American Archivists [2]), 'any form of addressed and written communication sent and received (Art & Architecture Thesaurus Online [3]). Letter culture is a medium of writing canonized through association with sender or recipient, tracing out networks of relationships around these nodes. They belong to ordinary writing and reading by common writers and readers (Lefort 2000; Lyons 2001; Rancière 1982; Rose 2010), and letterform as locus for connecting (i.e., communicating between those who write them, and those who receive them, with an inherent modality of presence-absence). Letters belong to subaltern forms of writing replete with oral forms, capturing emotion and generational subjectivities, epitomizing women’s and first-person writing. Raymond Williams conceptualized the structure of feeling as the generational social experience that finds a semantic figure which articulates it (1979: 162). Written communication is but small part of that semantic articulation, and letters are its special form. Letters epitomize the record of the past at the vortex of individual and generational experience.

Historical letter archives and their re-mediated forms figure in numerous digital humanities projects in roles that extend the evidentiary function of letter as document, to featuring letter as a poetic form and an act of writing, its graphic and textual elements equally central for the text analysis and their social histories. The central question of that quest is to focus on these digital archives as record of the past as well as a place of creation and invention. The remediated archives are particularly relevant as they reveal inherent tension of passage from one media form to another.

Digital archives of letters: the first phase of development

Early models: prototypes and the first wave, 1990-mid 2000

One of the early initiatives from the mid-1990s to digitize letters comes from the University of Virginia’s Electronic Text Center. Edgar Allan Poe Archive of letters is one of its well-known collections and pioneering efforts of The Electronic Text Center (1992-2007).[4] Now integrated in the Scholars Lab at UVA, this center launched an e-text revolution for the humanities, with a motley array of projects and collections associated with the early implementation of SGML/DTD grammar, and TEI principles. While some of its projects are now defunct, or migrated to other hubs of digital activity: to George Mason University, the Library of Congress and Project Gutenberg, these efforts provided models that are still influential in various digitization initiatives. Their impact is visible in how one approaches the analytics of a digital letter: the separation of graphic representation (scan) with appropriate resolutions, from transliteration and transcription, and the analytical procedures that ensure digital manipulation of the contents of the letter – through markup (SGML-TEI), initiating transliteration, translation (if needed), transcription, and summarization–to enable searching across collections of letters and associated documents. A legacy collection from the early period of digitization is a Library of Congress American Memory collection Trails to Utah and the Pacific, Diaries and Letters, 1846-1869 (dating from mid-2000), which incorporates forty-nine diaries of pioneers trekking westward across America to Utah, Montana, and the Pacific between 1847 and the meeting of the rails in 1869. We learn from its website[5] that the collection includes maps, photographs, and letters. The Frautschi Letters Virtual Archive at the Max Kade Institute (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2000) includes some 20 letters written by Swiss-born Frautschi family from Canton Berne (Emmental) who immigrated to Madison, Wisconsin in the 1850s.

Across these projects and typical for the first wave was editing was central purpose of the archival projects. They are thematic and rigidly focused - with several distinct representations of a digital object are created to represent the letter as an archival object, searchable and visible in several dimensions. For example, in the Edgar Allan Poe letter archive, we find two digital surrogates representing the graphic dimension of the letter, transcription, and transliteration including modernization, and two sizes of graphic representation, to capture the hand of the writer. The materiality encapsulated in this visible dimension of a letter, its graphic presence - is authenticating the document and its material dimensions (Hayles, in Lund (2010); Frohmann 2009). Trails to Utah and the Pacific, Diaries and Letters, 1846-1869, offers simple summarization and contextualization as another important element as a connection to document families.

Their common feature is that they tend to be topical and organized around individuals (or families) as featured within special collections. While bounded by archival principles, they extend the treatment of documents to corpus analytics and metadata, searching full-text across groups of documents. Expanding audiences beyond the scholarly communities, and even grassroots participation. In order to render a Swiss dialectal form written in an archaic form of Gothic, and feature letters in the context of other documents illuminating and contextualizing these letters, the Frautschi Letters Virtual Archive – an exemplary letter archive (includes letters of immigrants) – was initiated as a class project in collaboration with the Max Kade Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, combining linguistic and archival expertise.

The work of editing: interpretative literary and cultural histories of the first wave

Letter archives integral to collections of literary texts exemplified by Emily Dickinson Electronic Archives[6] are an epistolary anomaly. The letter-poem - both familial and artistic practice epitomizing a Dickinson genre[7] - is its primary archival form. The analytics here involve close-ups (note the difference in nomenclature between those and library projects), as well as transcription, note, printings, search, index (contents), and internal linking within the collection. So, one can also see those as properties tied to the digital document (graphic, and textual dimension of close-up and transcription; contextual dimension (note, printings), and searching – browsing system that are self-referential and related to the entire archive. The navigational dimension of the back button connects the letter within this digital edition – as shown in an example of a digitized letter poem.[8] Although the archive itself dates from 1994, the letter itself is an addition from 2008, and following an established model for presentation. The archive has been exemplary in the shaping of discourse about digital editions and bibliographic work, not unlike the Walt Whitman Archive, and The Blake Archive (multimedia). The purpose of the collection, in the words of Martha Nell Smith (the leading figure in the editing collective) is to be an edition – and a literary project (Dalbello 2011: 495).

Comparable projects include literary projects exemplified by the Modernist Journals Project at Princeton University, and digital humanities hubs such as the Center for History and New Media[9] at George Mason University; experimenting with technologies is integral to their mission. Computing in the service of digital humanities has an explicit educational purpose because it produces tools for democratizing access to primary sources, taking that material from within the realm of experts, with 'digital publishing technologies [able to, added MD] offer not only potentially wider audiences than those of the Gutenberg Galaxy but also creative new directions and more visibility for our work (Smith 2002, in Dalbello 2011: 495). Smith imagines a common reader in the Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman’s electronic archive: 'On-line, the common reader can now view images and painstakingly encoded (thus deeply searchable) transcriptions of Dickinson’s poetic and epistolary manuscripts; of Whitman’s drafts for Song of Myself … as well as all printed editions of Leaves of Grass, and hundreds of nineteenth century American novels. These technologies make more visible the quantity and variety of work that has gone into the making of American literary history. Such access to primary and out-of-print materials was unimaginable only a decade ago. In fact, most scholarly editorial projects are still produced as if this kind of access is not possible; thus, detailed notes, rather than digitized photographs with detailed notes, are the conventional surrogates for the objects under study. (Smith 2002, in Dalbello 2011: 495). Emily Dickinson’s poetry is a good case for a multi-media presentation because it often included objects, and was circulated in hand-written copies—thus defying the conventions by which poetry circulated in published form, but also the finite-ness and completeness of literary work. In this case, a digital archive holds together and preserves the simultaneity of multiple drafts of extant manuscripts, providing evidence for genealogical criticism, and in this editorial act possible within a digital archive, offering critique of previous editorial intrusions into Emily Dickinson’s text finalized in print. Even more radically, her poetry is recovered in the digital archive as spoken word. Smith argues that the electronic format better preserves Dickinson’s authorial intention – her poetry was determined by the codes of hearing (metrical conventions) rather than the codes of seeing. And how familiar that is to letter researchers! The epistemologies of hearing and seeing conflated within the digital archive indicate the oral roots of writing.

Digital archives of letters: the second phase of development

The second wave: networks and relationships

Many of the early letter projects established in the mid-1990s to mid-2000s shaped the paradigms of digital editing (with letters figuring prominently among the literary collections). The materiality and textuality of letter is at the center of theoretical thinking surrounding the building of these collections. Quite another strain from the mid-2000 represents the second wave. The emphasis is on showing networks and relationships, reading across coherent bodies of texts and structured data and revealing archival thought in the semantic figure that articulates large-scale social experience. Intrusions and intervention into the archival fonds takes the form of critical and revisionist approach, revealing dimensions of the past concealed in the fact of its creation.

Uncovered in editing for the digital archive, a new critical discourse focused on the letter as remediated form grapples with the very nature of the written record (as amphibian record of orality and literacy (Lyons 2010) but also in the potential to reshape archival thought. However, it is only at the large-scale that new critical points and analytics can be introduced to letter collections, as shown in several examples discussed next.

A striking example of innovation and the transformation of the idea of the archive is an explicitly invented archive, an example of which is the Valley of the Shadow[10] (Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia, copyrighted 1993-2007).[11] This digital archive comprises 1400 letters and diaries, complete census records from 1860, 45 GIS maps, and 700 photographs and images, together with an implicit interpretation of materials that form a compendium of documents about two Civil War communities and their two viewpoints, one Northern and one Southern (Augusta County, VA, and Franklin County, PA). The effect is unique, because the collection not only provides comprehensive access to primary source materials, but it blurs the usual carefully maintained distinction between an archive and a historical argument. In this example, the archive itself integrates an interpretative dialectic. Thus, the Valley of the Shadow helps demonstrate how invented archives contribute to historical understanding and offer a point-of-view perspective. The letters are part of a larger discourse created within a space of documents of this project. It is notable that this collection focuses primarily on textual transcription (the document scans are not accessible) (Hayles, in Lund 2010).

The invented archives can provide material for dialectic interpretation, present parallel perspectives, and also incorporate features for interactivity and intervention in the archive through personal reflections. The archive supports inquiry learning, which may take form of solving mysteries and interrogating historical evidence more closely. History sites of this sort remove the barrier between scholars and the public. Letters figure prominently in that collection, offering insights into the sentiment and the period. This is not a single such invented archive, which has a critical and populist dimension, and an explicit desire to intervene and re-create the archival fonds, in the spirit of Derridean critique noted earlier (1998). Let us remember the idea of invention and recreation, as we move to another type of digital archive of letters. This latest development points to further potential for remediated letter archives.

The Republic of Letters and its The Electronic Enlightenment Project[12] at Stanford University explores a well-known phenomenon in the history of letter writing connected to The Republic of Letters (Respublica literaria), an intellectual community with a prolific historical record. They record communication among intellectuals and literates, the philosophes of the Age of Enlightenment, the Republic of Letters consisting of men of letters.[13]

Constituting and representing a social network of late 17th and 18th century of men of letters (belle-lettrist in French) the circulated letters delineate a reach and boundaries of an imagined community. Prominent book historian Robert Darnton wrote one of the best-known accounts of publishing and intellectual life of the Old Regime relying on letter collections and correspondence occasioned by the publishing and distribution of the Encyclopédie, which inspired the Stanford project. This project itself is a platform for analytics and network analysis – it exemplifies the second wave digital humanities letters projects that fully address the challenge to show networks of relationships, to place letters in context, and read through multitudes of texts, and to enable reading across coherent bodies of texts and structured data, using analytics and visualizations. The Republic of Letters project at Stanford and its visualizations in the Electronic Enlightenment Project offer a potential for imagining the next steps for the Digitizing Immigrant Letters Project and to construe projects that feature networks of one to many, or many to one – we can only imagine some of these in various domains of academia and their application to salons and literary networks. Writings emerging from the Digital Enlightenment project, collaboration between Stanford University and Oxford University Project, analyze research tools for mapping networks and contexts and their uses (Edelstein and Findlen 2012). The project entersa core debate in the digital humanities, of doing versus writing (Cecire 2011), i.e., between building analytical tools and reflection. Further, the issues of creation and curation the convergence of practice domains and the notions of the library, archive and collection ( Clement, Hagenmaier and Levine Knies 2013: 112, 122).

Programmatic statement

Digitizing immigrant letters: an archive story

The Digitizing Immigrant Letters (DIL)[14] project at the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota integrates the features of the first and the second wave digital letter archives. Initiated in 2008 as an international collaboration of letter researchers, it resulted in a website in 2010 and a boutique collection of digitized immigrant letters written between 1850 and 1970 in languages other than English (the Europe Collection) as a venue for re-consideration of epistolarity and writing within a network of relationships and the story of migration. Assembling the archive of so-called America letters, and their counterparts the Homeland letters called for re-contextualization of primary documents in an archival sense, focusing on the analytic processes of editing the letters, and providing modes of letter reading across the collections (with added geocoding and interactive features). As an equivalent of salon display (Maleuvre 1999) in which letters from within different realms of experience and periods are featured in a single tableaux, or a stained-glass window (vitrage). In such display, an individual document is constitutive of a larger framework, while at the same time allowing micro-analytic process, the micrographies and microreadings of closeup, detail, and contextual information. This construction of the digital display observes classic archival principles of provenance and respect du fonds but it extends the archive within a storytelling mode and evidence for multiple historiographies. The piloted cases from within the collection represent multiple dimensions of immigration, multiple periods and conditions of letter writing – from literate to possibly dictated.

The repertoire of letters in DIL is broad-ranging; it covers a range of literacies exemplified by rustic as well as refined forms of writing. In the former are letters from Croatia (addressed to Milko Vukasinovich of St. Paul, Minnesota) are written in awkward expression that marks an auto-didact, unpunctuated, drawn in a single gesture; other are written by highly literate and self-aware writers. The letters selected for this collection are representative of subaltern forms of literacy and writing that make the relationship of orality to writing visible and explicit. The letters are also historical documents, carrying an epigrammatic dimension yet mirroring familial and intimate nature of similar letters and letter collections, and contextualizing them among other piloted letter collections from the IHRC to invoke the experience of migration from the point of those who stayed behind.

Expanding the project with a focus on Central European migrations, and re-incorporating these letters within a digital edition enables the study of immigration and emigration from below, challenges conventional histories by offering material for a cultural history of migrational experience, which is based on evidence and records that are neither institutional (such as the statistical records that define immigration in the home and host countries), and not a viewpoint presented in the political histories of migration. This cultural historical approach allows for phenomena on a large scale to be contextualized by examples from a micro-level. Moreover, a programme of distributed archive of immigrant experience (uniting America and Homeland Letters) calls for studying the two contexts comparatively – the sender’s and the receiver’s – in which letters are written and received. State of mind information (emotional content of letters), as well as forms of writing provide insight into literacy practices, engage other foci for lateral reading and of factoids pointing to places, times, and individuals. In this case the individuals are not engaging history in the grand sense of wards, recession, and political transformations (Denzin and Lincoln 1998: 240) but as a structure of feeling.

By comparison, the Electronic Enlightenment project that focuses on the networks of literati, recovering relationships in a transnational regime of letter writing and intellectual exchange among men of letters, and it explores the mapping of letters of one to many. In contrast, the case of immigrant letter networks follows a different model: of mapping many to many. This question calls for consideration of purpose of the project itself. Although these anonymous actors were active in labor movements and social movements, and the context of their ordinary experience was the context of experience for such larger movements, we cannot assume that these individuals were part of social movements or political groups, that they were in any way prominent nodes, nor were they necessarily part of social networks apart from those that arise from kinship relations. Still, such analyses could be used to study labor and social movements against the backdrop of ordinary experience in a focused way, for certain diasporas or groups. Letters of migration in a digital archive offer new potential for transnational materials to emerge in a collection based on many to many model through participatory exchange of digitized versions of letters, building a network of correspondence between international migrants and their families, and friends in the years between 1850 and 1970. (Central European scholars and archivists are already building on this digital humanities initiative originating and residing in the IHRC).

Archival convergence: the next generation

For the next generation technology to be imposed on the first analytical layer of letters featured in this digital archive, one also needs to address the questions of what types of distant reading (i.e. reading across aggregated bodies of text) would be most desirable to researchers, and develop coding schemes to be applied by all partners in the initiative.

The consolidation of letter collections within the larger collections and contextualizations may be possible, using the personal letter and its components as an index into other information repositories. Currently old newspaper archives and Google books project offer new possibilities for archival collections to be connected to other document data to contextualize letters. Thus, consolidation of letter collections within larger collections and contextualizations is possible, using the personal letter and its components as an index to micro-reading. The letters and especially letters of migration are documents that are discursive in the sense that they are constructed as much as they representing a time. They offer insight and to subjectivities of their creators, but also subjectivities that are constructed through the experience and the frameworks of migration, they also point to discursive connections and social nodes. Ideally, the matching of America letters, which reside mostly in places where immigrants left their records with the other side of transnational migration and its accompanying transnational correspondence, of the homeland letters would reveal both sides of that diadic communication.

The programme for such analysis will need to engage strategic and systematic coding of letters to unite disparate collections, to provide the basis for data extraction, visualizations and analytics along the following ideas around epistolarity (Gurkin Altman 1982) in general, and the letters of migration in particular – to engage these levels of analysis and associated questions, which are questions tied to general archival thought:

  • Do letters have a genre? – Genre dimension
  • What are the letters about? – Topicality
  • What is the information content and factoids? – (Example: Do letters say about how much money they sent home, which in turn can point to the why of emigration and why they left – for financial, ideological, political reasons) – Factuality
  • What was the state of mind of their writer (emotional words)? – Context dimension
  • Are personal context of writing and reading explicated? – Sender/receiver dimension
  • Rhetorical analysis – Discourse dimension
  • Locational points (mapping the letters in space) – Space dimension

In addition to coding and metadata operations to enable distant reading (Dalbello 2011: 498) across a large data set in order to initiate the process of creation and recreation of the archive there is the question of how to extend the DIL archive to Web 2.0. The digital convergence would enable a large participatory community beyond letter researchers and archivists including amateur historians, genealogists and the general public to continue their labors.

While it can remain an archival project, it should be open to participatory dimension through a letter-sharing site used to open the project out to the public. The metaphor for such network could be The Family Tree [attribution to Anselm Spoerri], in which the letter serves as an index to the family tree (of a family, system of villages, locations), and to the network of relationships. The Family Tree becomes another component of collaborative process; the tree metaphor captures what archives are at the time of ubiquitous archivization, when convergence culture and possibilities of recording are integrated into an archival effort.

The archive that holds a promise of becoming participatory, as it is being remixed and reutilized, implies new uses of the archive, even some violent uses of the archive to reinforce certain ideologies, with a potential for reshaping the constructions and ideologies that we as historians and archivists created around the stories of migration and immigrant experience that has been derived from institutional records and what is preserved in official repositories.[15]


In addressing documentary dimensions of letterform in the context of digital archiving, several exemplary letter archives offered the basis for reflection on how digital object and re-constituted letter collections may increase access and re-reading of the archive.

Starting from what we learned from the first and the second wave of digital humanities efforts – presentation of documents and reconfiguration of their exploratory dimensions, and how these collections that can attract new publics and expand repertoires of interpretation for letters and migrational letter as a specific letter genre – various digital humanities projects were highlighted to understand how digitality and epistolarity in these reconstituted collections frame the act of remediation as a poetic and aesthetic act in addition to its informational and documentary dimension. Digitization introduces possibilities for distant readings across a body of texts, understanding the generational social experience articulated through letter culture.


The author thanks two anonymous reviewers, as well as Anselm Spoerri and Rachel Miller for their insightful comments. Support from this project comes from the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota that partially provided resources, small grants, and support for this research (2010-2012).

About the author

Marija Dalbello is an Associate Professor in the Department of Library and Information Science, School of Communication and Information, Rutgers University. She received her PhD at the University of Toronto. She can be contacted at dalbello@rutgers.edu.


[1] Nomological - according to Merriam-Webster denotes certain principles, such as laws of nature, that are neither logically necessary nor theoretically explicable.

[2] Society of American Archivists: A glossary of archival and records terminology. (Correspondence) Retrieved on June 15, 2013 from http://www2.archivists.org/glossary/terms/c/correspondence

[3] Art & Architecture Thesaurus Online. (Correspondence) Retrieved on June 15, 2013 from http://www.getty.edu/vow/AATFullDisplay?find=correspondence&logic=AND&note=&english=N&prev_page=1&subjectid=300026877

[4] From University of Virginia Libraries website: The Electronic Text Center (1992-2007), known to many as Etext, served the University community’s teaching and research needs in the areas of humanities text encoding for over fifteen years. Many of the resources once available on Etext are now available via VIRGO, the primary access point for all UVA library digital texts and images. In the course of migrating thousands of texts from Etext to VIRGO it was determined that certain resources were not eligible for inclusion. Many of the texts that were not migrated can be found among other university online text collections, Google Books and Project Gutenberg. We regret any inconvenience this may cause you and we wish you the best with your research. - http://www2.lib.virginia.edu/digitalcuration/etext.html.

[5] Trails to Utah and the Pacific, Diaries and Letters, 1846-1869, Retrieved on June 15, 2013 from http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/award99/upbhtml/overhome.html

[6] Emily Dickinson Electronic Archives (EDA) Retrieved on June 15, 2013 from http://www.emilydickinson.org.

[7] From EDA: Letter-Poem, a Dickinson Genre does not contend that Emily Dickinson was the only or the first poet to use letters to transmit poetry, to formulate letters as poetry, to exploit the poetic and epistolary so that they inflect, enrich, even become one another. Keats and other of her forebears, as well as a host of her descendants, blend the genres in various ways and for a wide range of purposes resulting in an even wider range of effects. In his 1958 introduction to The Letters of Emily Dickinson, Thomas H. Johnson remarked the oft-quoted editorial doubt where the letter leaves off and the poem begins (L, p. xv). Sixteen years later, her eminent biographer Richard B. Sewall identified producing letter-poems as a familial as well as an artistic practice: [Dickinson’s father] Edward’s sister Elizabeth was not only the chronicler but the bard of her generation. She once sent her young nephew Austin a rhymed letter of fifty stanzas on his toothache (Life 32). Sometimes Dickinson enclosed poems on a separate sheet with a letter; sometimes poems (especially to Susan Dickinson) constitute the entire text of a letter; sometimes a few lines of a poem recorded in the fascicles or in another letter or on a sheet not bound to any manuscript book, either literally with string or figuratively by being sent to a particular addressee, are woven into the prose of a letter. Retrieved on June 15, 2013 from http://www.emilydickinson.org/letter/letintro.htm

[8] Retrieved on June 15, 2013 from http://www.emilydickinson.org/letter/hb90.htm

[9] Retrieved on June 15, 2013 from http://chnm.gmu.edu

[10] Valley of the Shadow, Retrieved June 15, 2013 from http://valley.lib.virginia.edu/VoS/lettersp2.html

[11] The Valley of the Shadow is a digital archive of primary sources that document the lives of people in Augusta County, Virginia, and Franklin County, Pennsylvania, during the era of the American Civil War. Here you may explore thousands of original documents that allow you to see what life was like during the Civil War for the men and women of Augusta and Franklin.

[12] Mapping the Republic of Letters. Electronic Enlightenment Correspondence Visualization. Retrieved on June 15, 3013 from http://www.stanford.edu/group/toolingup/rplviz

[13] Wikipedia: The term ‘Man of Letters’ (‘belletrist’, from the French belles-lettres), has been used in some Western cultures to denote contemporary intellectual men; the term rarely denotes ‘scholars’, and is not synonymous with ‘academic’. Originally, the term implied a distinction, between the literate and the illiterate, which carried great weight when literacy was rare. It also denoted the ‘literati’ (Latin, pl. of literatus), the ‘citizens of the Republic of Letters’ in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France, where it evolved into the salon, usually run by women. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Men_of_letters#Men_of_letters.

[14] Digitizing Immigrant Letters. Retrieved on June 15, 2013 from http://ihrc.umn.edu/research/dil/index.html

[15] For such examples see Parallel Archive (http://parallelarchive.org) and Flickr Commons.

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How to cite this paper

Dalbello, M. (2013). Digitality, epistolarity and reconstituted letter archives Information Research, 18(3) paper C26. [Available at http://InformationR.net/ir/18-3/colis/paperC26.html]

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