Time-travelling with Letters 1916-1923

by Monika Barget, Project Manager

Private family collection in early-twentieth-century biscuit tin, photographed for Letters 1916-1923

Joining the Letters 1916-1923 project in autumn 2017 was a great adventure for me because I hold a degree in early modern history and had never worked on 20th-century Irish history before. The time period I am dealing with now is marked by innovations in media, transport, medicine and military science which people of the Enlightenment Age could not have imagined, but there are several exciting links between my previous research and Letters 1916-1923.

One reason why I applied for the project was that I have always enjoyed reading, transcribing and analyzing historical correspondence. I am particularly interested in the role which letters played in political movements across time. As much as the Jacobite rebellions of the earlier eighteenth century or the American Revolution were epistolary events, so were the Easter Rising, the First World War, the Anglo-Irish War and the Irish Civil War influenced by gifted letter-writers. On the one hand, letters are exceptionally personal and confidence-inspiring means of communication; on the other hand, letters in the form of circulars or printed letters to a newspaper editor can also be powerful tools of public agitation. The Letters 1916-1923 collection mirrors this versatility of letter-writing as it contains confidential government correspondence and intimate family letters alongside widely-circulated statements.

It is one of my tasks as project manager to source new private and institutional letters, and to make them available online. Closely cooperating with archivists, research assistants and volunteers, I ensure that the letters we publish reflect different approaches to the events of the time, and that the voices of writers from different social and ethnic backgrounds are heard. Moreover, I support the Letters 1916-1923 team in organizing educational events. The Letters 1916-1923 project is a wonderful travel through time, and I thoroughly enjoy every encounter with our supporters and volunteers.

Urban District Council records held by the Longford Archives

Irish society in the early twentieth century was by no means homogeneous but culturally and religiously diverse. For me as an early modern historian, it is compelling to delve into the networks of internationally-connected suffragettes or Irish-American republicans, and to compare their communication strategies to opposition politics in previous centuries. Potential manipulation and postal interception, for instance, bothered political letter-writers in the Hanoverian age as much as soldiers and prisoners in 1916 to 1923.

Whether written by hand or on a typewriter, letters of the early twentieth century complemented or questioned the opinions and narratives disseminated in contemporary newspapers, journals, pamphlets and books. They followed specific conventions and were often highly stylized, but they were equally topical and creative. This richness of the Letters 1916-1923 collection is highlighted in the contributions on this website and in our social media posts. I wish you a pleasant exploration trip as you browse the articles and letters!

Last but not least, I would like to thank the Irish Research Council (IRC) for generously funding the most recent phase of the Letters 1916-1923 project, including my position.

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