Before the advent of modern technology made communication so easy, the art of writing a letter was considered an important requirement. Even today a letter is an important means of communication, and letters create opportunities to express meaningful thoughts, feelings and ideas to people who are significant.
Lesson Objectives:

  • Identify the social role of letterwriting
  • Recognize how letters represent intimate and unique human experiences in history and the humanities
  • Compose a handwritten letter

The Social Significance of Letters & Letterwriting
Letters provide a platform for meaningful and expressive forms of communication that are different from to face-to-face or verbal communication. Letterwriting is distinctly unique because the recipient of the letter is absent during the time of composition, and this provides the composer with an opportunity to invest deeper thought into the message and meanings being conveyed in the letter than would be provided during spontaneous communication. Letters can also provide a bridge to ideas, feelings, and emotions that are difficult to express in person, but can be communicated on paper with greater ease. Letters also provide a tangible ‘souvenir’ from a human relationship whether it is the painful moment of a breakup, the yearning from being separated or the sense of gratitude for support and guidance.

In the video below, Lakshmis Paturi explains how letters are a means of leaving a legacy for loved ones because letters can be a repository for personal and interpersonal thoughts, feelings, ideas and observations that can be shared and revisited even after the letterwriter dies.

Letterwriting in History
Letters and letter writing have played an enormous role in history by unveiling human emotion and experiences within historical events.  While historical documents and accounts can provide descriptive recordings of human action in the past, letters open the window to the thoughts, ideas and feelings experienced by historical actors. Letters help us connect to shared experiences that are oftentimes lost by historians, such as heroes experiencing moments of self-doubt, intrepid explorers feeling homesick, or villians expressing compassion for a loved one. Letters can reveal secrets and moments of truth.

Digital Worlds and the Endangered Letter

Advances in communication technologies has transformed the way people communicate, and consequently affected human intimacy and relationships worldwide. The one-on one interactions in the modern world are being reduced to simple text messages, social media snips, email fragments, and self-reflective video commentaries.  While digital communication as increased the frequency and intensity of public interactions and engagements, it has come at the cost of more meaningful and private connections between individuals. In the video below, Simon Garfield refers to letters as ‘little things that mean a lot’ while charting the history and dying art of letterwriting.

How to Write a Proper Letter
The style and formality of the letters depending on the relationship between the writer and the recipient.  If it’s a significant other or an old buddy, the letter can be informal, intimate, and breezy as if they were in person. If the recipient is a colleague or foe, the letter should convey a sense of dignity and mutual respect. The goal of the letter is to create a voice in the readers head, and to use style and word-use to create an emotional tone. The letter itself provides a tangible connection through paper that has passed hands from the composer to the recipient. Therefore, the type of paper that carries the letter as well as the writing instrument used to compose the letter should reflect the emotional tone of the letter and the relationship.


For Discussion: Research and write about a famous letter- it can be a love letter, a war letter, or any type of correspondence.

For your Expression: HAND-WRITE a letter to someone – it can be a love letter, expression of gratitude, letter of encouragement, touching base with an old friend, etc. Personalize the letter and give the letter either in person or via postal mail. Upload a picture of the letter and explain it to your classmates; why did you choose to write to the recipient of the letter and how did you personalize it?