Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Carlyle Letters - Victorian Reference Sources

There is something to be said about obtaining history from primary sources. If you are interested in the Victorian era, life during the time of the potato famine or how people communicated without cell phones, Internet or even telegraph then you should visit The Carlyle Letters Online from Duke University Press.

Duke University Press Carlyle Letters Online
You will have the opportunity to meet Thomas and Jane Carlyle and be introduced to some of their family, friends and life in the 19th century. There are over 10,000 letters written to and from the leading lights of the day such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Ralph Waldo Emerson and many more.

You will also get a sense of gender relations, travel, the importance of the Victorian class system and an overview of the society at that time.

Insight on the Potato Famine

One of the letters I read talked about the Irish population and the Potato Famine. The disease that infected potato cultivation did not just affect the Irish community. Most of the United Kingdom was impacted. As the potato crop died other crops became more valuable and fortunes were lost and made because of the famine.

I learned that there was a proposal to provide job infrastructure projects to help the Irish population sustain itself. The project was discourage and defeated by the merchants and landlords. The business class felt that such assistance would be a violation of free trade. It gives me an opportunity to compare that sentiment with discussions we in the 21st century are having about health care and governmental involvement.

Easy To Navigate and Find Information

It is easy to find letters on a certain topic. You can search by date, by the recipient of the letter or by subject. For example, when I selected London Library, I was provided a list of letters that talked of Thomas Carlyle's concern about who should be the next Librarian.

The letters are all connected via links so that you can follow the flow of the "conversations" or jump to a specific writer and follow his/her contributions. There are subject notes and footnotes to help explain changes in meaning or obscure words.

This is an excellent resource to add to your research and information gathering kit.

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