Letters across Borders: The Epistolary Practices of International Migrants

By McCarthy, Angela | British Journal of Canadian Studies, September 2008 | Go to article overview

Letters across Borders: The Epistolary Practices of International Migrants


McCarthy, Angela, British Journal of Canadian Studies


Bruce S. Elliott, David A. Gerber, and Suzanne M. Sinke (eds), Letters Across Borders: The Epistolary Practices of International Migrants (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 315pp. Cased. £47.50. ISBN 1-4039-7101-3.

The personal correspondence of migrants has recently been subject to a flourishing scholarship and several outstanding contributors to that historiography appear here including David Fitzpatrick, David Gerber, Wolfgang Helbich, William D. Jones, Walter D. Kamphoefner, and Eric Richards. Many of the 14 essays also originate from an international conference held in Canada in 2003 and are conveniently grouped into overarching sections on the limits and opportunities of letters, writing conventions and practices, silences and censorship, editorial interventions, negotiations of identity, and letters and the state. While a focus on epistolary evidence gives the volume a coherence often missing from conference collections, there is nevertheless rich diversity in the type of sources mined by the contributors, including unpublished letters sent to family and friends, correspondence published in newspapers, early modern petition letters, and communications with authorities.

Particularly impressive is the volume's chronological and geographical scope. This enables the reader to consider early modern petition letters as explored by Alexander Schunka, as well as correspondence exchanged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Only one of the contributors, however, attempts to assess a form of correspondence over a long timeframe: that is Suzanne Sinke's examination of courtship in North America over four centuries. Among the varied regions examined, meanwhile, are North America, Australia, Mexico, Europe, Ukrania, and Saxony.

Assorted ethnic groups are also incorporated. While some authors examine these ethnicities in broad terms (such as Fitzpatrick for the Irish, Gerber for the British, Jones for the Welsh, Vadim Kukushkin for Russians, Karen Lemski for Ukranians, Daiva Markelis for Lithuanians, and Miguel Angel Vargas for Mexicans), we also find intriguing micro-studies of particular individuals, including Ann Goldberg's analysis of the correspondence of two German-Jewish sisters. …

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