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Future of Letter Writing

Letter Writing in America

by Kathryn Burke


The Future of Letter Writing

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the future of letter writing remains unclear. Will the aesthetic value of a well-written letter continue to appeal to generations of technology-driven Americans? Will proponents of the epistolary format persevere in the realms of art and literature, thereby keeping the letter alive? Will e-mail etiquette preserve the rules of proper letter writing long after the paper letter becomes an object most often seen in a museum? Whatever the future of letter writing in America, the value of letters themselves can only increase. Priceless historical documents revealing glimpses of life in a bygone era, the letters of Americans offer modern readers insight into our own history and the desires and concerns of our ancestors. As Thomas Dublin said in Farm to Factory: Women’s Letters, 1830-1860, “Increasingly, historians are becoming aware of the need to expand our vision of history to incorporate the experiences of the not-so-famous Americans who have until now found scant place in the story of our nation’s past. To limit history to the study of presidents, generals, and leading reformers is to focus only on the most visible and accessible individuals and events in the past. Such a view is not only incomplete; it is, more importantly, distorted.” Letters will live on as the rounding out of that picture, the coloring of times, places and events that were experienced by ordinary Americans who had something to say. The letters of a nation reflect that nation’s history—for that reason, if for no other, letters and letter writing will continue to be important to Americans and to the identity of the country they helped to shape.

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