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The Edwardian postcard revolution - a literacy studies perspective

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

Publication date2/07/2014
<mark>Original language</mark>English
EventWhat is a letter? An interdisciplinary approach - The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, Oxford, United Kingdom
Duration: 2/07/20144/07/2014


SymposiumWhat is a letter? An interdisciplinary approach
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


Studies of letter writing have tended to focus on the practices of literary writers, or members of elite strata of society, although notable studies of vernacular writing are developing (Sokoll, 2001). Edwardian postcard writing is a genre with a specific, distinct relation to letter writing, yet closely entwined with that practice.

The word ‘revolution’ is often over-used but is surely appropriate to postcards in the decades of the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, when their multifunctionality vastly exceeded that of the holiday postcard of more recent times. Developed in Austria in 1869, the postcard was very quickly adopted across Europe by people across all social classes. In cities there were several deliveries a day, so that cards could be experienced as virtually synchronous. In 1896 The Times declared, “Now the postcard is the letter of the poor.” In 1902 illustrations were introduced. Untrammelled by the etiquette and obligations of formal letter writing, people took to exchanging brief, rapid, multimodal messages with a verve not to be seen again until the digital revolution.

In this paper I explore postcard writing from a Literacy Studies perspective (Barton & Hall, 2000; Barton, 2007). I combine textual and material analyses with an investigation of historical sources, including census records, to deepen sociocultural understandings (Gillen, 2013). I focus on a case study of one set of correspondence, between a typist whose transient homes revolved around the Caledonian Market cattle market, and a stoker in the Navy. Through exploring the correspondence of Ruby Ingrey and Arthur Waddelow I demonstrate the opportunities and limitations of taking a Literacy Studies approach to researching this multimodal epistolary genre.

Barton, D. & Hall, N. (eds) (2000) Letter Writing as a Social Practice. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Barton, D. (2007) Literacy: An Introduction to the Ecology of Written Language 2nd edn. Oxford: Blackwell.
Gillen. J. (2013) Writing Edwardian Postcards. Journal of Sociolinguistics 17 (4) 488-521.
Sokoll, T. (2001) Essex Pauper Letters 1731-1837. Oxford: Oxford University Press.