This course examines the literary, cultural, and material life of written correspondence from the poetic epistle to the snarky tweet. And while we will read and analyze epistolary literature (both fiction and nonfiction) such as Ovid’s Heroides, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and
Alice Walker’s A Color Purple, we focus our efforts on “real” letters of writers that are held in the Rare Books Room of the Boston Public Library. The BPL is a treasure trove of such correspondence, ranging from the stately epistles of Queen Elizabeth to the cryptic scribblings of
Emily Dickinson. Much of the course is devoted to handling, describing, and transcribing these fragile texts, all the while characterizing the place of letter writing within the history of the
book. As we examine this life of letters, we consider the rhetorical principles that shape authors and audience over time, as well as their implications for our understanding of the past, present, and future of epistolary friendship. Drawing on the innovative methods of the digital
humanities, we contextualize our archival research within read-write platforms, such as blogs, wikis, Facebook status updates, and Twitter feeds, in order to identify the shifting character and global significance of written correspondence today.