June is here and with it brought National Pen Pal Day on the 1st. While with the rise of technology having a pen-pal might seem to be a thing of the past, it is something I still partake in with a few close friends and family members. In the age of texting and emailing, receiving a letter feels that much more special and personal. There is just something about seeing someone’s handwriting and knowing that they took to the time out of their day to write to you that is irreplaceable.
Letters have always been significant, not just to the people sending and receiving them, but to historians as well. They are valuable records that act as time capsules. Throughout the centuries they have been used to analyze and discover the personality of some of history’s most notable figures and improve our comprehension of what it was like to be alive during various eras. Through letters we have been able to form the face behind some of the greatest writers and give context to their writing. This can be seen in some of the books in our collection. From the Forbidden Garden: Letters from Alejandra Pizarnik to Antonio Beneyto edited by Carlota Caulfield (2003) is an assemblage of letters written by the Latin poet that paint a portrait of Pizarnik’s self-discovery and her artistic nature. They consist of detailed drawings and doodles she sent to her correspondent. Collected Writings of Charles Brockden Brown: Letters and Early Epistolary Writings, Volume 1 edited by Philip Barnard, Elizabeth Hewitt and Mark L. Kamrath (2013) include 179 letters written by Brown that showcase his personal life and the revolutionary era he lived in. His pen-pals included Thomas Jefferson and Albert Gallatin. Gender, Authenticity, and the Missive Letter in Eighteenth-Century France: Marie-Anne de La Tour, Rousseau’s Real-Life Julie by Mary McAlpin (2006) examines the relationship between pen-pals Marie-Anne de La Tour and the famous Jean-Jacques Rousseau. McAlpin studies what these letters reveal about the character of the philosopher and de La Tour. If it weren’t for their letters, we wouldn’t have as deep an understanding of these writers outside of their writings.
So in honor of National Pen Pal Day, try sending a letter to a friend or family member. Or use one of the many sites you can find online to set you up with a pen pal from around the world. I guarantee it will brighten their day. And who knows, maybe years from now your letter will end up crossing the path of someone hoping to understand more about living in the 21st century.