In this Book

NYU Press
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2008 United States Postal System's Rita Lloyd Moroney Award

In the era before airplanes and e-mail, how did immigrants keep in touch with loved ones in their homelands, as well as preserve links with pasts that were rooted in places from which they voluntarily left? Regardless of literacy level, they wrote letters, explains David A. Gerber in this path-breaking study of British immigrants to the U.S. and Canada who wrote and received letters during the nineteenth century.

Scholars have long used immigrant letters as a lens to examine the experiences of immigrant groups and the communities they build in their new homelands. Yet immigrants as individual letter writers have not received significant attention; rather, their letters are often used to add color to narratives informed by other types of sources.

Authors of Their Lives analyzes the cycle of correspondence between immigrants and their homelands, paying particular attention to the role played by letters in reformulating relationships made vulnerable by separation. Letters provided sources of continuity in lives disrupted by movement across vast spaces that disrupted personal identities, which depend on continuity between past and present. Gerber reveals how ordinary artisans, farmers, factory workers, and housewives engaged in correspondence that lasted for years and addressed subjects of the most profound emotional and practical significance.

Table of Contents

  1. Cover
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  1. Frontmatter
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  1. Contents
  2. pp. vii-viii
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  1. Acknowledgments
  2. pp. ix-x
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  1. Introduction: Letters and Immigrants
  2. pp. 1-28
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  1. Part I: Immigrant Epistolarity
  2. p. 29
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  1. Introduction
  2. pp. 31-32
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  1. 1. Traditions of Inquiry
  2. pp. 33-56
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  1. 2. Forming Selves in Letters
  2. pp. 57-91
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  1. 3. Writing with a Purpose: Immigrant Epistolarity and the Culture of Emigration
  2. pp. 92-139
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  1. 4. Using Postal Systems: Transnational Networks on the Edge of Modernity
  2. pp. 140-161
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  1. 5. Establishing Voice, Theme, and Rhythm
  2. pp. 162-200
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  1. 6. When Correspondence Wanes
  2. pp. 201-223
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  1. Part II: Four Lives in Letters
  2. p. 225
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  1. Introduction
  2. pp. 227-229
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  1. 7. Thomas Spencer Niblock: A Dialogue of Respectability and Failure
  2. pp. 230-256
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  1. 8. Catherine Grayston Bond: Letter-Writing as the Practice of Existential Accounting
  2. pp. 257-280
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  1. 9. Mary Ann Wodrow Archbald: Longing for Her “Little Isle” from a Farm in Central New York
  2. pp. 281-308
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  1. 10. Dr. Thomas Steel: The Difficulties of Achieving the Reunited Family
  2. pp. 309-335
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  1. Abbreviations for Archives and Repositories Consulted
  2. p. 337
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  1. Notes
  2. pp. 339-397
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  1. Collections of Letters Consulted
  2. pp. 399-401
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  1. Index
  2. pp. 403-421
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  1. About the Author
  2. p. 422
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