I am more than a little bit obsessed with letters. Ever since I was a young girl I have been a prolific writer of letters, often spending hours every Sunday writing to friends and family members, loving the practice of telling the stories of my life and sending little thoughts out through the post. In fact, I used to keep a large stash of little things that I collected from magazines and newspapers, just to have fun little things to include in the letters that I was writing. One of my greatest treasures is the address book that I kept for years, where I would record all of the places where my correspondents lived. Even though I no longer add to that book, I still keep it because of the waves of memories that it holds as I look at where each of my friends moved over the years.
And my love of letters even overlaps with my love of books. Three of my all-time favorites are Angle of Repose (which includes letters as part of the narrative), Pamela (an entirely epistolary novel) and Letters from Africa (the real-life letters of Karen Blixen to her beloved Denys Finch-Hatton). This is also why I am so very delighted by the current novel that I’m reading, Hello to the Cannibals, which also has letter writing at the core of the narrative.
I also use letters in my teaching, not just as source material for my students to examine, but for themselves to use the act of letter-writing as the basis for a reflective practice. One of my favorite assignments is at the end of the term, when I have my Digital Humanities students write letters to future students in the class, telling them what they can expect of the course. Here are some fun excerpts from those letters:
This class will take all types. Those who are tech-savvy, and those who still carry around those bricks people affectionately refer to as “Nokias.” Those who know how to code, and those who can barely form a proper sentence. And that’s okay. The hope is by the end of the class, you’ll find something, no matter how small, you can attach to and find what interests you in this honestly intimidating field. Once you find that thing, run with it and run far. You’ll have the freedom to really make this class work for you, if you want it to…I also thought I wouldn’t be using any of these tools after the semester ended. After all, they looked really cool, but how could I integrate them into my own studies? In this case, desperation is both the mother and father of invention. As work in my other classes became more involving and complicated, I realized I could unravel some of that complexity with some of the practices I learned from this class. Even if there isn’t a specific tool that you find particularly helpful, the concepts of critical thought, deconstruction, and distant reading will be universally helpful to you.
What I am taking away from this class more than anything is a new way of looking at , and questioning, our digital world. Why do our screens have to be rectangular? What does that do to our thinking? Why do our presentations needs to be composed of slides? What does that do to our thinking? Why do we only watch one video at a time? What does that do our thinking? Are these the only ways? These are questions I wasn’t asking before, but I am now.
And finally, there’s this letter that a student wrote using animated GIFs and is well worth clicking through and seeing on her wordpress site: http://wordpress.chapman.edu/juliaross/2017/12/09/good-luck-to-you-boo/