Webster Newbold was recently interviewed by the Associated Press about his article, “Rhetoric, Fiction, and the Appetite for Model Letters in Renaissance England,” which recently appeared in Appositions: Studies in Renaissance/Early Modern Literature & Culture. See below for our interview with Newbold and check out the article here.
What made you interested in letter writing habits? Also, how long have you studied these habits?
My field of academic research is letter writing in the English Renaissance, the 16th and 17th centuries; and I teach about medieval letter writing (the ars dictaminis) in my graduate class on medieval and early modern rhetoric. I have been the author of many traditional-type letters over the years, and have been using electronic communications almost as long as email has been generally available–from the early 1980s. So, although I haven’t done formal research on current correspondence patterns, I do have some ideas from a variety of sources.
Can you describe your studies and your findings?
My studies about letter writing in the Renaissance have found that literate people used letters for a wide range of purposes: to conduct business, retain family relations, ask for favors, express ideas in place of formal publication, and especially for entertainment. On this final point, I’ve investigated model letters in Renaissance how-to manuals as a genre of fiction, which later matured into more extended epistolary forms such as the novel.
What conclusions have you made from your research?
I think current correspondence patterns are well worth studying in light of digital platforms that now provide more opportunity to connect via writing. Scholars have found that young people now do much more writing than they did a generation ago (in blogs, email, texts/tweets, etc.), and questions worth asking include: How does this writing become part of peoples’ lives? What function does it carry out? How does correspondence-type writing relate to other, more formal genres people produce? What is the perception of digital communication in the general population–what are its positives and negatives? What would young people value in future writing tools? What do they value in traditional forms of writing?
To see more from Newbold on this subject, don’t forget to check out his article here.