Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Researching with Letters and Diaries
Academic Year
Semester 2
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Seminar 10 x 2 Hour Seminars


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Oral assessment  20%
Semester Assessment Written project  4000 words  80%
Supplementary Assessment Written essay in lieu of the oral assessment  1000 words  20%
Supplementary Assessment Written project  4000 words  80%

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this module, students should be able to:
1. demonstrate familiarity with the ways in which personal letters and diaries have been used by historians;
2. demonstrate an awareness of the challenges of working with letters and diaries, including the risk of according them too much significance;
3. analyze and reflect critically on the concept of 'truthfulness' in private communication.

Brief description

This module will introduce students to the ways historians have used personal letters and diaries to support their interpretation of historical events and social change. Students will examine the tradition of letter writing and diary keeping in Britain and, to a lesser extent, in Europe, from the 17th century onward. Seminars will explore questions related to the 'truthfulness' of seemingly private documents, the 'public' nature of some private diaries, and the way in which even candid communications have at times left important things unsaid. Instances of letters and diaries having been used by historians to 'prove' contentious arguments in the arenas of social and political history will be explored, as will concerns about whether private communication in the post-paper age will continue to be as rich a source for historical researchers. Will emails and blogs successfully replace letters and diaries, or is the golden age of private communication over? Assignments will require students to identify and work with archival collections, including those held by the National Library of Wales.


1. Introduction: Personal letters and diaries as historical evidence
2. The tradition of letter writing: Britain and Europe
3. Diaries: for private or public consumption?
4. Accessing archival collections
5. Social history: using letters to prove an argument
6. Political history: reappraising events with the help of letters and diaries
7. Always truthful? Interpreting 'honesty' in letters and diaries
8. Reading between the lines: what's left unsaid in private communication
9. Death of the letter: a vanishing source for historical research
10. The blog: useful or useless for historical research?


This module is at CQFW Level 5