The Crumbling of Traditional and Historical Value: Handwritten Documents

The first recorded handwritten letter dates back to 500 BC from Persian Queen Atossa. Through the centuries, the writing material changed and progressed from cotton paper and goose quill pens to linen rags for paper and composite lead pencils.

Our recorded history comes from many handwritten letters from kings, writers, adventurers, slaves, and many more. Through these letters, historians were able to piece together particular periods of the past to create a narrative. We’ve learned of lover’s trysts, such as Oscar Wilde’s passion for Lord Alfred Douglas; Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letters of love during their tumultuous relationship; and the confusing, emotional letters between Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Also, we were gifted with letters written during the Civil War from battlefield soldiers to their families.

The written letter was not only in the form of love, but in literature and documents giving account to current events. We have the poem, The Taking of Teach The Pirate, written by a 12-year-old Benjamin Franklin after hearing of the death of Edward Teach, known as Blackbeard the Pirate; a letter from General Washington to Joseph Reed, discussing the current situation of the Siege of Boston and the Continental Army; and one of the most important written documents in American history is The Declaration of Independence.

These historical writings demonstrate how we carried the importance of the written letter well into the mid-20th century. It was a tradition. We kept in touch with family and friends through the written letter. We wrote to let others know how we were doing. We wrote invites and thank you notes. We sent cards with well wishes and words of wisdom along with sympathy cards.

I believe the telephone and technology slowed down the desire to write. And nowadays, even phone calls are becoming a thing of the past. Even though there are faster ways to get in touch with people, I enjoy phone calls and sending things in the mail. I still send out birthday and holiday cards to family and friends. Maybe it’s because I live in another country…but I like to think it’s because I love tradition, and holding on to such things makes this chaotic world seem a little less out of control.

Love of the Written Letter,

8 thoughts on “The Crumbling of Traditional and Historical Value: Handwritten Documents

    • Author gravatar

      There is a certain artistic quality to a handwritten letter. Each writer has their own style from the dreaded “chicken-scratch” to the flowing calligraphy of others. Reading a handwritten letter creates a closer connection than a typed e-mail can. You know that the writer has invested time into the correspondence. I could cut and paste a letter and send it to 10 people, but if I wrote it out each time I may only send it to the 5 or 6 people that mean the most to me (or just get lazy and stop because my hand hurts).

    • Author gravatar

      Denise you know how I love these historical blogs of yours, now I’m keen to have a look at some of these letters on Internet. I’m still happier writing letters than sending emails and have literally boxes and boxes of letters exchanged over the years – when I say exchanged, after my mother’s death I found that she’d kept most letters written by me and my brother – they are now part of our family history to be reminisced over at holidays with the younger generation. Lovely blog, thank you x

      • Author gravatar

        Laurette, that is so lovely to have boxes of letters from you mother and brother. Those are more precious than anything you can buy. I wish I had some from my mother, but we saw each other every week. Thanks for sharing.

    • Author gravatar

      Awesome article. In some ways I agree with you that online has deteriorated the want for people to write but it has also expanded access for most people that had the need to write to publish their books and literature and get their thoughts out to the masses. it seems like a tradeoff; want versus access. more things are available to the public and the people who want to be creative can push their work out there but there might be less people who want to do the work.

      its an interesting thought

      • Author gravatar

        Very true, Servolos. Technology has provided opportunities to so many. It’s just unfortunate that the personal touches of handwriting were sacrificed instead of remaining in everyday life.

    • Author gravatar

      I love your entries Denise. There is nothing like a hand-written sentiment. It’s such a shame that it is a dying practice. I have a wax seal and stamp that I would love to actually use. fortunately there are still people like you around who keep these practices alive in spirit!

      • Author gravatar

        Thanks so much, Burton! I love the idea of a wax seal and stamp. I should look into getting one. I don’t think I’ve ever received a handwritten letter with a wax seal. 😀

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