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Writing Edwardian postcards: a revolutionary social networking phenomenon

Research output: Contribution to conference - Without ISBN/ISSN Conference paper

Published
Publication date10/04/2014
<mark>Original language</mark>English
EventEdwardian Cultural Network 2nd annual conference - University of Liverpool, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Duration: 10/04/201411/04/2014

Conference

ConferenceEdwardian Cultural Network 2nd annual conference
CountryUnited Kingdom
CityLiverpool
Period10/04/1411/04/14

Abstract

Picture postcards were an extraordinarily popular phenomenon in the Edwardian age, in ways that presage the digital revolution of more recent times. Emerging through a nexus of new communication technologies and changes in society, the postcard enabled writers to send brief, multimodal messages cheaply in a “culture of speed.” With several deliveries a day, the experience of using cards was closer to contemporary digital communications than in any intermediate period. Working with the Postmaster General’s reports, we have calculated that between 1901 and 1910 approximately 6 billion cards were sent, approximately 200 per person per year on average. They were appropriated by an almost universally literate population, with an unprecedented sense of mobilities. Internal and external evidence make clear how much people enjoyed using this new, informal and highly accessible tool, untrammelled by the formal requirements of letterwriting.

We have compiled a corpus of 3,000 cards sent through the post in the UK between 1901 and 1910 and combine a variety of linguistic, semiotic and historical methods to find out more about postcard users. In this paper I respond to the following questions:
1. Who used picture postcards to communicate with their social networks?
2. How did people make use of the speed of the cards, across time and distance?
3. In what ways did postcard writers make use of the new multimodal opportunities?

I will combine an overview of findings in response to these questions with some exemplifying illustrations. I will conclude with reflections on the place of the postcard in Edwardian society and culture, making some comparisons with current social networking communications.