Perspectives On Slavery Essay

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For historians who use letters and diaries, the pleasures of reading them translate into specific reasons for why they are valuable windows for looking into the past. Both kinds of personal texts rely on narrative, or storytelling, something which gives historians a useful, inspiring, and sometimes challenging threshold for the story they want to tell. Too, most personal texts have a certain open, candid quality which contrasts with the highly conceptualized and self-protective language of more "official" documents. Finally, although only literate people kept diaries and exchanged letters, both forms were important to a wide variety of people in the past – rich and not-so-rich, old and young, women and men – and thus diaries and letters are among the most democratic of historical sources. With these things in mind, and before we consider particular strategies for reading personal letters and diaries, it is helpful to recall how both forms take their shape from "public" or cultural conventions of expression, and from the aims of each individual diarist or letter writer. (We will be looking mostly at nineteenth century texts, as they set the tone for modern letters and diaries, and yet they also retained elements of earlier forms.) Each letter or diary is the result of how a particular writer modified or "bent" the conventions at hand. In this sense, the conventions might be likened to a script and each diary or letter to an actual performance. The historical richness of these texts is found precisely in the friction between the general form available to all writers and individuals’ use of it for their own purposes. For example, lovers courting each other in the 1850s wrote love letters which tracked along certain expressive paths. They employed certain forms of address, wrote on certain topics, and flirted in certain ways. In a very real sense, they "fell in love" in

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