Authors of Their Lives: The Personal Correspondence of British Immigrants to North America in the Nineteenth Century

Overview

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.

In contrast, Authors of Their Lives analyzes the cycle of correspondence between immigrants and their homelands, paying particular attention to ...

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Authors of Their Lives: The Personal Correspondence of British Immigrants to North America in the Nineteenth Century

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Overview

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.

In contrast, 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. David A. 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.

About the Author:
David A. Gerber is Professor of History at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“[I]n this excellent study . . . Gerber uses sophisticated social theory — quite elegantly — for a readable and insightful analysis of the immigrants and what migration meant to them. . . . Gerber also breaks new ground by analyzing the 'rhythm' of letter writing — how immigrants' writing changed over time and what that reveals about their psychology, emotion, and adjustment. . . . Altogether, Gerber provides a fresh model and another high standard for scholars of American immigration.”
-Journal of American History

,

“Gerber provides an insightful examination of the role letters play in the shaping of identity. . . . Will certainly help historians to address personal immigrant letters more critically.”
-American Historical Review

,

Authors of Their Lives is the definitive study of American and Canadian immigrant letters. David Gerber employs psychology, epistolary scholarship, as well as his superlative capacities as an empathetic reader, to reveal how letters constitute not only a record of immigrant experience, but were an agent in fashioning that experience. Authors of Their Lives is an invaluable contribution to transnational history at the most personal and persuasive level.”
-John R. Gillis,author of Islands of the Mind: How the Human Imagination Created the Atlantic World

“David Gerber provides a new reading of the immigrant letter. Though informed by social theory, it is Gerber's astute analysis which provides the reader a rare entree to the psychology of particular immigrants. A unique achievement!”
-Rudolph J. Vecoli,Professor of History, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

“This is a fascinating book. David Gerber carefully analyzes the letter itself to focus on the development of individual identities in the face of migration.”
-Jon Gjerde,author of The Minds of the West: The Ethnocultural Evolution of the Rural Middle West, 1830-1917

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814731710
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/2006
  • Pages: 422
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

David A. Gerber is professor of history, University at Buffalo (SUNY). His books include The Making of an American Pluralism: Buffalo, New York, 1825-1861, Black Ohio and the Color Line, Anti-Semitism in American History, and Disabled Veterans in History.

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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments     ix
Introduction: Letters and Immigrants     1
Immigrant Epistolarity
Introduction     31
Traditions of Inquiry     33
Forming Selves in Letters     57
Writing with a Purpose: Immigrant Epistolarity and the Culture of Emigration     92
Using Postal Systems: Transnational Networks on the Edge of Modernity     140
Establishing Voice, Theme, and Rhythm     162
When Correspondence Wanes     201
Four Lives in Letters
Introduction     227
Thomas Spencer Niblock: A Dialogue of Respectability and Failure     230
Catherine Grayston Bond: Letter-Writing as the Practice of Existential Accounting     257
Mary Ann Wodrow Archbald: Longing for Her "Little Isle" from a Farm in Central New York     281
Dr. Thomas Steel: The Difficulties of Achieving the Reunited Family     309
Abbreviations for Archives and Repositories Consulted     337
Notes     339
Collections of Letters Consulted     399
Index     403
About the Author     422
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