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UKLA Webinar Series – Julia Gillen, Social Media in the Early 20th Century

In this presentation with a Q&A, Julia Gillen explains why it is reasonable to call Edwardian picture postcards social media.

Miss Annie Parrish worked on a remote farm in Lincolnshire at the beginning of the twentieth century. Nevertheless she participated in the craze for picture postcards which characterised the popular culture of the Edwardian era (1902-1910). In this presentation I will first explain why it is reasonable to call Edwardian picture postcards social media. With several deliveries a day the picture postcard offered the first way to combine an attractive image with a short message that would arrive quickly, possibly within hours. This speedy, cheap multimodal medium for communication faded by the First World War and there was no comparable platform until the digital revolution.

I will illustrate my talk with 17 postcards relating to the Parrish family to examine:

literacy practices and skills; picture postcards as networking tools; characteristics of this material, multimodal technology; regulation, economics and competition.

Contemporary accounts and work by later historians tend to portray a somewhat negative image of the relatively few young people that stayed in the countryside. After the Great Agricultural Depression of the late nineteenth century most had moved into cities. Conditions for agricultural labourers, men and women, were often difficult and, understandably, they have been regarded as lagging behind their urban counterparts, including with regard to literacy and culture. I will demonstrate how this small collection of postcards illuminates the literacies and lives of the Parrish family, and what it has to tell us about this social media phenomenon.

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