Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fountain pens and handwriting

In the flurry of differing opinions on the subject of books vs. computers, saving everything, and the relevance of archiving an entire life, I have something that I need to admit:

About a month ago, I started writing again. And I mean actual writing, with a notebook and a fountain pen. And yes, I am the individual who used to carry around a PDA with dozens of books loaded on to it for light and easy reading on the commute to work. I've never been concerned by technology; it always felt natural to me, but after months of consideration, I decided to go back to the handwritten journal of my childhood.

At the forefront of my mind was my favorite paper that I wrote during my undergraduate career. It wasn't my best paper, or even my most original, but it was the first paper where I ever felt like I was doing "real" research. The topic was on how women were able to influence desertion in the American Civil War through "domestic persuasion" and the bulk of my research came from analysing the language used in letters written by women during the War. Thanks to the American Civil War: Letters and Diaries digital archive at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (unfortunately, it has now become a limited-access archive due to recent 'attacks' on their servers), I was able to read hundreds of letters written by ordinary women during the Civil War. None of them were out of the ordinary: news about the children, news about the farm, 'I miss you,' 'I wish you'd come home'. These women could never have imagined that their letters would one day be important, would one day be read by scholars and anyone with an interest and a modem.

I was thinking about these letters, and then thinking about all of the phone and instant message conversations lost, all the emails deleted. Am I deleting myself when I do it? And I thought of the elegant simplicity of words handwritten on a lined page; if it's important enough that I want to remember it, then it's important enough to take the time to write it down. Somehow, in this age of information overload and talk of the 'Infinite Archive,' I am still placing a disproportionate importance on written records. Will historians in the future see it that way? Will they even bother to look at written records, when digital ones are so freely available?

I've never thought of myself as reactionary, but I have started writing again.

1 comment:

bestonline323 said...

i love fountain pens they make your handwriting pretty!


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