What if it they only had 140 characters?

December 17, 2014 · Collections ·

Part of the workflow on the NHPRC project is quality control. I get the files and review them for clarity. While doing quality control on the Williams Family Papers images, I was struck by some of the letters passing between three sisters in the mid-19th century. The sisters were Sophia William, Mary McLean, Hannah Williams and Elizabeth Williams. It wasn’t the content so much as the format!

They used every available spot on the paper to write their messages. I have seen this kind of thing before, but not to the extent of these women. They wrote sideways across the top of the letter, in the margins, and on the page that would become the envelope for mailing. Sometimes they resorted to writing across the text they had already written. Then there were letters on sheets of paper measuring 11”x17” and every spot on those was filled as well.

 

Even with oversize paper, the women still used every available space. Ms Williams Family Papers

Even with oversize paper, the women still used every available space. Ms Williams Family Papers

What if, instead of letters, these conversations were phone calls in the days of land lines when you paid long distance fees. Would anyone read an email that long today? And what would these women have done if they were confined to 140 characters in a Tweet? It is truly amazing how our culture shapes us. I can barely understand the shorthand in tweets and texts (which are totally new ways of communicating to me) and young people these days cannot read cursive, which is how all these letters were written. Now who can say history is not fun?

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