The context of eighteenth-century correspondence

In the eighteenth century, most of what couldn’t be communicated in person had to be communicated by writing. But letters communicated more than factual information. Importantly, they also communicated the letter-writer’s social status and connections, his or her level of education, personal style, and sense of shared culture. Letters were often passed on to be read among relatives and friends, sometimes with the writer’s consent, but sometimes without.


As we read these letters so many years later, these details remain important for us. They are evidence of, first, the types of information people wanted to communicate, second, where they wanted that information to be circulated, and third, where and how this information was circulated.  


The Andrew Millar project focuses on business letters, which might communicate several or all of the types of information listed above. Business letters didn’t only record financial transactions. They were also written to maintain patronage, the social exchange of favours by which people advanced their interests.


In this video, Dr Adam Budd gives an overview of eighteenth-century correspondence which will enable you to put the letters discussed in Module 2 in their historical context.

Our thanks to the Bodleian Library for the use of the image in our banner: "William Green Jr. (fl. 1732–1752), Scene at an Oxford Book Auction, oil on canvas, 1747; Bodleian Library. Portrait LP.701, 1F.”