Brooklyn in Love and at War: Making Private Correspondence Public Online

Monday, January 5, 2015: 11:20 AM
New York Ballroom West (Sheraton New York)
Molly Rosner, Rutgers University–Newark
The blog “Brooklyn in Love and War” chronicles hundreds of letters that my grandparents sent to each other during World War II while my grandfather was in the navy and my grandmother lived in Brooklyn with their first-born child. The letters are filled with day-to-day tasks like shopping, cleaning, and affectionate musings. But they also contain arguments about the war, discussions of responsibilities at home and abroad, and evidence of the ways personal relationships change during wartime. Featuring digitized letters, photos, drawings, and reader commentary, this archive reveals New York City life through a multi-media format that attempts to recontextualize personal correspondence and generate an interactive and intergenerational historical narrative.

The postal service, letter writers, censors, and technology like V-Mail - which was introduced to support the massive volume of letters - all indicate that personal correspondence was part of a larger wartime infrastructure that involved not only private emotion and devotion, but also public participation and shared commitment to the war effort. This digital history project investigates the every-fragmenting line between public and private history.  Removing letters from their original context and putting them into a new, public setting leads to a series of questions about ownership, audience, and historical narrative.

Building on the personal dilemmas presented to one family in New York City during World War II, this paper will highlight the challenges historians face when using a public and digital platform to reuse personal letters.