Anthropologists, historians, and scholars of many disciplines have long used personal correspondences as vital sources of data, especially of times and places where we can no longer interview or do participant-observation. With cyberspace, such possibilities have expanded, as can be seen in this digital archive of the Japanese 2011 (or 311) disaster.
Historically, there are still many good sources that reveal the personal insights of everyday people; these insights are crucial in truly understanding the impact of historical events and practices. Here is one website (Letters of Note) that features these everyday commentaries from the perspective of personal letters.
Andrew Ma emailed me this link to a letter written by an emancipated slave to his former master. It powerfully reveals much of what happened during slavery. I’m amazed that the former master even asked his former slave to come back to Tennessee to work (albeit for wages), and I’m even more amazed at the tone Mr. Anderson took in his response.
It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.
I’m left curious as to how the former master reacted after reading the letter. Here’s how Mr. Anderson closed the letter – in a subtle yet powerful damnation of the whole issue.
Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.
From your old servant,