Book

The Postal Age

David M. Henkin

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print November 2006 | ISBN: 9780226327204
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226327228 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226327228.001.0001
The Postal Age

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Americans commonly recognize television, e-mail, and instant messaging as agents of pervasive cultural change. But many of us may not realize that what we now call snail mail was once just as revolutionary. As this book argues, a burgeoning postal network initiated major cultural shifts during the nineteenth century, laying the foundation for the interconnectedness that now defines our ever-evolving world of telecommunications. The book traces these shifts from their beginnings in the mid-1800s, when cheaper postage, mass literacy, and migration combined to make the long-established postal service a more integral and viable part of everyday life. With such dramatic events as the Civil War and the gold rush underscoring the importance and necessity of the post, a surprisingly broad range of Americans—male and female, black and white, native-born and immigrant—joined this postal network, regularly interacting with distant locales before the existence of telephones or even the widespread use of telegraphy. Drawing on original letters and diaries from the period, as well as public discussions of the expanding postal system, the author tells the story of how these Americans adjusted to a new world of long-distance correspondence, crowded post offices, junk mail, valentines, and dead letters. The book paints a picture of a society where possibilities proliferated for the kinds of personal and impersonal communications that we often associate with more recent historical periods. In doing so, it increases our understanding of both antebellum America and our own chapter in the history of communications.

Keywords: television; e-mail; instant messaging; cultural change; snail mail; postal network; nineteenth century; telecommunications; mass literacy; migration

Book.  237 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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Table of Contents

Introduction in The Postal Age

Chapter

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