In 1820, the Cape of Good Hope, a British colony since 1795, became the new home to c. 4,500 English-speaking settlers. Correspondence surviving from this period in reference to this settlement enables insights into early nineteenth century letters, a still understudied area. Moreover, it provides a good setting to disambiguate the term letter from an internal, bottom-up perspective. Such a perspective may offer "a key for disclosing historical forms of communication" (Hübler and Busse 2012: 1) as first-order phenomena. This is achieved in an analysis of categorial labels (keywords) and metacommunicative clues found in the internal correspondence of the Colonial Office, a British government department, in the years 1820-1821. The results of the analysis provide a partial answer to what the label letter meant for this professional community. Adding a researcher’s perspective to such a description allows proposing a twofold approach to "the letter" as an analytic category in the study of historical correspondence.
© Faculty of English, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland, 2013