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Summer Blogging: Letters & Life

Meant to get this going earlier in June, rather like a letter written and not yet mailed, but for this summer I’m going to blog about letters in the collections of the SLU Libraries.  Published one way or another.  This was inspired by this piece on National Public Radio on 400 waxed Roman writing tablets found during an excavation in London.  These are believed to be the oldest handwritten documents on record, found in Great Britain.  The piece details what has been recovered: All the tablets were originally coated in black beeswax, on which messages were written. The wax has long since been lost — but the stylus that was used to mark the tablet sometimes cut down into the wood, leaving marks behind. Think of how a pad of paper can retain the imprint of a message from a page that’s been torn away. There is a just enough left to be read, there is just enough to have written evidence of daily life on the “wild west frontier of the Roman Empire.”

So what these Romans thought of as a disposable (doubtless) way of doing business becomes a centuries permanent record of doing business–but that’s the paradox of letter writing: the occasional document that singularly chronicles the moment it’s written.  Given the prominence and ubiquity of digital tablets (such as the one upon which I’m written) it strikes me that this is the major loss in the decline of letter writing.  People who would never self identify as writers wrote voluminous letters, this medium that was a combination of conversation and essay (in ways digital transmission are simply not) when it was a commonplace was autobiography for everybody…the letter was a literary genre like an other but also uniquely approachable simply because most folks accepted it as a necessity and thus never had second thoughts about writing them.

So this summer I’ll be blogging about letters in the SLU Libraries collections, published every way our civilization has to publish (meaning this side of wax tablets).  It’s a way to explore both the SLU Library Collections and letters.  When was the last time you wrote a letter?  When was the last time you read someone’s letters?  Join us, write someone a letter.

~ by pdoty on June 14, 2016.

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