Kulturarv Östergötland
Kulturarv Östergötland

IMPORTANCE OF THE LETTERS

Emigrant letters are important as sources when we will generate knowledge about emigrants thoughts and experiences from the break with the old country and to arrival in the new. Research on letters is an example of, what scientists call a qualitative method (and difficult work). Here we have summarized some examples of subjects for further study.

In general these sources have not been used as much as they should. Some universities have made studies based on emigrant letters. This is possible all over Europe. Our first example compare different periods in the migration history. It is possible to examine how circumstances differed one hundred years. Such a comparative perspective is very useful.

The reasons for emigration are also interesting. Researchers have divided the factors behind emigration into pull and push factors. This has often been done based on aggregated data from, for example, harvests, prices and famine. For the first time, it is now possible to read the emigrant´s own words in databases. We now have the primary sources to analyse other reasons behind emigration.

The migrant´s picture of the new country can be studied in comparision to the picture of the old country. Over time, perhaps, the pictures have changed. Warning: Idyllic images about life in America are very common, as well as completely black picture of the home country.

How did the integration process work? How did the Europeans became Americans? Who were their new friends in America, Americans or countrymen? Did the emigrants tell us something about new traditions in the letters? Which church did emigrants belong to? The naming of children and the choice of school tells a lot about how the process continued.

Emigrant letters can also be used for studies in linguistics. How did the European languages change over time in the letters and what happens to the language when the emigrant learns English?

Other themes from the letters worth studying are: women´s life, work and working conditions, politics, economy, weather, nature and harvests.

At last, letters written by emigrants who returned to their old country are sources that tell about disappointments. Is it possible to follow the decision to emigrate to Europe again. Did the picture of America from this category differ from that of other migrants? Why did they return?

Hans Nilsson,
Ass professor, dep of History
Linköping University

IMPORTANCE OF THE LETTERS

Emigrant letters are important as sources when we will generate knowledge about emigrants thoughts and experiences from the break with the old country and to arrival in the new. Research on letters is an example of, what scientists call a qualitative method (and difficult work). Here we have summarized some examples of subjects for further study.

In general these sources have not been used as much as they should. Some universities have made studies based on emigrant letters. This is possible all over Europe. Our first example compare different periods in the migration history. It is possible to examine how circumstances differed one hundred years. Such a comparative perspective is very useful.

The reasons for emigration are also interesting. Researchers have divided the factors behind emigration into pull and push factors. This has often been done based on aggregated data from, for example, harvests, prices and famine. For the first time, it is now possible to read the emigrant´s own words in databases. We now have the primary sources to analyse other reasons behind emigration.

The migrant´s picture of the new country can be studied in comparision to the picture of the old country. Over time, perhaps, the pictures have changed. Warning: Idyllic images about life in America are very common, as well as completely black picture of the home country.

How did the integration process work? How did the Europeans became Americans? Who were their new friends in America, Americans or countrymen? Did the emigrants tell us something about new traditions in the letters? Which church did emigrants belong to? The naming of children and the choice of school tells a lot about how the process continued.

Emigrant letters can also be used for studies in linguistics. How did the European languages change over time in the letters and what happens to the language when the emigrant learns English?

Other themes from the letters worth studying are: women´s life, work and working conditions, politics, economy, weather, nature and harvests.

At last, letters written by emigrants who returned to their old country are sources that tell about disappointments. Is it possible to follow the decision to emigrate to Europe again. Did the picture of America from this category differ from that of other migrants? Why did they return?

Hans Nilsson,
Ass professor, dep of History
Linköping University

Kulturarv Östergötland
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013-23-03 91 
E-post: kulturarv@ostergotlandsmuseum.se

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