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Yours ever (well, maybe): Studies and signposts in letter writing

Cox, RJ (2010) Yours ever (well, maybe): Studies and signposts in letter writing. Archival Science, 10 (4). 373 - 388. ISSN 1389-0166

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Electronic mail and other digital communications technologies seemingly threaten to end the era of handwritten and typed letters, now affectionately seen as part of snail mail. In this essay, I analyze a group of popular and scholarly studies about letter writing-including examples of pundits critiquing the use of e-mail, etiquette manuals advising why the handwritten letter still possesses value, historians and literary scholars studying the role of letters in the past and what it tells us about our present attitudes about digital communications technologies, and futurists predicting how we will function as personal archivists maintaining every document including e-mail. These are useful guideposts for archivists, providing both a sense of the present and the past in the role, value and nature of letters and their successors. They also provide insights into how such documents should be studied, expanding our gaze beyond the particular letters, to the tools used to create them and the traditions dictating their form and function. We also can discern a role for archivists, both for contributing to the literature about documents and in using these studies and commentaries, suggesting not a new disciplinary realm but opportunities for new interdisciplinary work. Examining a documentary form makes us more sensitive to both the innovations and traditions as it shifts from the analog to the digital; we can learn not to be caught up in hysteria or nostalgia about one form over another and archivists can learn about what they might expect in their labors to document society and its institutions. At one time, paper was part of an innovative technology, with roles very similar to the Internet and e-mail today. It may be that the shifts are far less revolutionary than is often assumed. Reading such works also suggests, finally, that archivists ought to rethink how they view their own knowledge and how it is constructed and used. © 2010 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.


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Item Type: Article
Status: Published
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Cox, RJrjcox@pitt.eduRJCOX
Date: 15 July 2010
Date Type: Publication
Journal or Publication Title: Archival Science
Volume: 10
Number: 4
Page Range: 373 - 388
DOI or Unique Handle: 10.1007/s10502-010-9121-2
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Information Sciences > Library and Information Science
Refereed: Yes
ISSN: 1389-0166
Date Deposited: 02 Feb 2011 19:32
Last Modified: 02 Feb 2019 16:55


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