1st Edition

The Edwardian Picture Postcard as a Communications Revolution A Literacy Studies Perspective

By Julia Gillen Copyright 2024
    158 Pages 22 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This monograph offers a novel investigation of the Edwardian picture postcard as an innovative form of multimodal communication, revealing much about the creativity, concerns and lives of those who used postcards as an almost instantaneous form of communication.

    In the early twentieth century, the picture postcard was a revolutionary way of combining short messages with an image, making use of technologies in a way impossible in the decades since, until the advent of the digital revolution. This book offers original insights into the historical and social context in which the Edwardian picture postcard emerged and became a craze. It also expands the field of Literacy Studies by illustrating the combined use of posthuman, multimodal, historic and linguistic methodologies to conduct an in-depth analysis of the communicative, sociolinguistic and relational functions of the postcard. Particular attention is paid to how study of the picture postcard can reveal details of the lives and literacy practices of often overlooked sectors of the population, such as working-class women. The Edwardian era in the United Kingdom was one of extreme inequalities and rapid social change, and picture postcards embodied the dynamism of the times.  

    Grounded in an analysis of a unique, open access, digitized collection of 3,000 picture postcards, this monograph will be of interest to researchers and postgraduate students in the fields of Literacy Studies, sociolinguistics, history of communications and UK social history.

    1. The Edwardian postcard as a revolutionary communications technology  2. The early postcard  3. Researching the Edwardian postcard  4. Materiality and multimodality  5. What were the Edwardians writing about?  6. The lives of three young women through postcards: Annie Parrish, Janet Carmichael and Ruby Ingrey  7. Conclusions



    Julia Gillen is Professor of Literacy Studies at Lancaster University, UK.

    The Edwardian Picture Postcard as a Communications Revolution: A Literacy Studies Perspective offers thoughtful and inventive insights both of the literacy practices of the past, and how we might think of writing in our current moment. Julia Gillen’s fascinating exploration of the widespread uses of postcards in the Edwardian era provides important perspectives into the ways in which a specific set of cultural and material circumstances created the conditions by which participatory, daily literacy practices became available for much of the population. She illustrates how the social and material influences shaping the circulation of these postcards prefigures many of our later literacy practices, up to our current social-media saturated time. What’s more, Gillen demonstrates how a skillful use of a range of research methods and theory – from posthumanism to social history to corpus linguistics – can reveal a complex, layered understanding of literacy practices, both past and present.” - Bronwyn T. Williams, Professor of English and Endowed Chair in Rhetoric and Composition, University of Louisville, USA.

    “This is a fascinating and erudite study of Edwardian picture postcards. Professor Gillen sharpens her focus on the messages these cards convey and what they can tell us about those who sent them and those that read them with an approach that is both scholarly and entertaining. The focus – on a collection of 3000 cards - produces some compelling narratives of social history based on an expert use of the analytical techniques available to researchers in the field of literacy studies. Gillen skillfully refracts these insights through an understanding of contemporary social media to highlight the continuities and discontinuities of everyday writing practices and to draw attention to the revolutionary impact that new communication technologies can have. The result is impressive – a readable and instructive account that makes a significant contribution to the cultural history of writing.” - Guy Merchant, Emeritus Professor, Sheffield Hallam University, UK.