WW1 manuscripts seminar next Monday

Next Monday (18 May) at 5.30, Edmund King (Open University) is giving a paper on ‘British Manuscript Cultures of the First World War’, part of the Open University/Institute of English Studies Book History and Bibliography Research Group seminar series at Senate House: details pasted in below; other details about the seminar series are at

18 May 2015 (Monday)

Room 104 (Senate House, Malet Street, London, first floor)

17:30 – 19:30

Edmund King (Open University)

British Manuscript Cultures of the First World War

Open University Book History and Bibliography Research Seminar

That the British volunteers and conscripts of the First World War made up the largest civilian army in the nation’s history is widely appreciated. What is less well known is the scale of the communications infrastructure necessary to keep these “citizen soldiers” in touch with the home front. Between 1914 and 1918, the British Postal Service’s Home Depot in London handled 2 billion letters and 114 million parcels addressed to soldiers serving overseas. Many of these soldiers were spending the first substantial period of time in their lives away from loved ones. Large numbers found themselves writing to parents and siblings for the very first time, learning the art of letter writing as they did so. Others for the first time in their lives started keeping diaries and journals of their day-to-day experiences. The war thus represented a kind of portal through which citizen soldiers, regardless of social status, were introduced to habits of self-recording through manuscript that had previously been largely the province of the upper and middle classes. Using specific examples drawn from soldiers’ letters and diaries, this paper will ask what it was that was unique about the manuscript cultures of the First World War.