Deconstructing the text: understanding how the letter was put together

We can read more from a letter than the information contained in the text. Whether the letter-writer conformed stylistically to socially prescriptive manuals, whether he or she acknowledged receipt of letters received, and how the cover sheet was addressed and sealed—these details tell us about the wider social meanings attached to correspondence, as well as providing clues to the social status of the writer, and the relationship between writer and recipient.

This will suggest ways we can enrich and expand our research into a particular historical figure or archival collection. In this video, Dr Alison Duncan looks at what else we can learn from the letter written by Andrew Millar to David Hume, dated 24 April 1764.       

For other useful guides on how to read 18thC letters, see: 


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.”