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Personal Narratives / Ordinary Writings

Writing practices in the 19th-20th centuries

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Published on Monday, September 12, 2005


Call for Papers for a panel at the ISSEI Congress in Malta, July 2006.




Malta Congress, 17 - 22 July 2006

Proposed panel in Section 1: History on

Personal Narratives: Ordinary Writings –

towards a history of writing practices in the 19th and 20th centuries

The history of writing as a cultural practice seeks to distinguish and analyse the rituals, conventions and practices determining intimate or ‘ordinary’ writing, and to arrive thereby at a clearer understanding of the place and importance of the act of writing. This panel will concern itself with the nature, context and growth of personal written communication in western societies in the 19th & 20th centuries.


Intimate writing created, framed and perpetuated personal, family and social relationships; and it was a means by which individuals elaborated their own personal identities. The enormous importance of the act of writing in daily life and in personal relations during the 19th century still needs to be measured.


‘Ordinary writings’ or écritures ordinaires may be conceived in two ways – either as the personal writings (diaries, correspondence and other writings not necessarily destined for publication) of the educated bourgeoisie; or as the writings of ordinary people who had not totally mastered written culture. In either case, we aim not to provide a textual analysis of the content of such writing, but to investigate what its existence tells us about the act of writing as a cultural practice, and about what writing meant to those who practised it. What, for example, are the unspoken formulas of a highly coded genre like private correspondence? What are the situations, conditions and networks of sociability that bring letters into existence and allow them to survive? What are the rules and shared rituals that determine their form? In attempting to unravel the social grammar of private writing, we can delineate the role of personal writings in the cultural exchanges of the past. Such a study of cultural practices must also embody a gendered dimension.


Possible topics which may be addressed in this panel are:

  • the history of postal services
  • etiquette manuals and instructions on writing
  • letter-writing practices of emigrants, soldiers, prisoners
  • the history of learning how to write
  • diaries and journaux intimes and their role in elaborating a personal identity
  • the history of love-letters
  • the history of postcards, Christmas cards, Valentine cards, letters of condolence
  • the history of private scrapbooks or commonplace books
  • written prayers for divine assistance or saintly intercession
  • ephemeral writings such as graffiti

although this is not an exhaustive agenda.


Papers in this panel may be presented either in English or French.


Selected papers may be eventually submitted for publication (in Spanish) to Cultura Escrita y Sociedad.


Please send proposals (max. 200 words or 1500 characters) to

m.lyons@unsw.edu.au by 18 December 2005.

Martyn Lyons:


I am Professor of History and Associate Dean for Research in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. I have published several books and articles on the history of reading and writing practices in France and Australia. Most recent books include Readers and Society in 19th-Century France (Palgrave 2001) and (edited with John Arnold) A History of the Book in Australia vol.2, 1891-1945 (University of Queensland Press, 2001). I participated in ISSEI conferences between 1990-98, and have been a regular reviewer and manuscript assessor for The European Legacy. In both 1996 and 1998, I organised panels, and at the Haifa Congress in 1998 I gave a keynote lecture.



  • Valletta, Malta


  • Sunday, December 18, 2005


  • Martyn LYONS
    courriel : M [dot] Lyons [at] unsw [dot] edu [dot] au

Information source

  • Martyn LYONS
    courriel : M [dot] Lyons [at] unsw [dot] edu [dot] au


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Personal Narratives / Ordinary Writings », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, September 12, 2005, https://calenda.org/190471

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