Is this a Good History? Analysis to Elizabeth Cohen`s “Between Oral and Written Culture The Social Meaning of an Illustrated Love Letter”

Is this a Good History? Analysis to Elizabeth Cohen`s “Between Oral and Written Culture The Social Meaning of an Illustrated Love Letter”

Isthis a Good History? Analysis to Elizabeth Cohen’s “Between Oraland Written Culture: The Social Meaning of an Illustrated LoveLetter”

Isthis a Good History? Analysis to Elizabeth Cohen’s “Between Oraland Written Culture: The Social Meaning of an Illustrated LoveLetter”

ElizabethCohen’s article, “Between Oral and Written Culture: The SocialMeaning of an Illustrated Love Letter”, examines instances of oraland written culture evolving over the years with the level ofliteracy seen to be one of the sources of power. This power, even inbusiness, politics, family affairs, and religion, plays a rolebetween the dominant and the dependent also between the ordinaryfolks and the elite. Based on Cohen’s view, chances of solitary,silent reading, presented elaborate occasion, especially for anautonomous sense of bounded self and mental life. In this article,the author examined one of the numerous conjunctions within anepisode whereby literacy and lack of it, helped shape social powerrelationships and notions of privacy. Which begs the questions isthis a good history? Does her article open up other things?Intriguing? Has vivid or broad sources used to support her evidences?The paper will attempt to answer such questions, while assessing herargument.

Fromthe analysis, Elizabeth Cohen’s article presents a good historydespite a few instances of superficial evidences used. To begin with,she went as far as looking into “one obscure, odd, and even comicaltext” (Cohen, 1993), which she got in Rome from an adolescent’slove letter dating as far as 1602. The far she went to access theletter showed her desire to show the difference between oral andwritten culture used at the time to express love. Considering theletter is from an adolescent showed her longing to make itintriguing. The adolescent love letter also helped to give it asocial meaning, which from a historical point of view, is rife with alot of conundrums and contradictions. A good history is abouttangible reflections, which in many ways offer solutions toproblematic conjunctions of literacy and orality. The letter wasevidence towards early modern world represented by Rome, andgenerally in Europe.

Secondly,Cohen’s article examined the letter, which in turn focused on itswriters, readers, and the court case to which represented. Evidencedby the inhabited culture torn between orality and literacy in mostearly modern European people, the article has a good history thatshows how people struggled to read and write yet were all ready topursue their life goals. The history saw men and women confined in aculture of antiquated orality with most of the documents working infavor of and against a strong incentive to find ways for betterunderstanding response. Elizabeth Cohen undertook evidences from ananthropologist, Keith Basso, for an attempt to pursue what would betermed as “problematic meanings of literacy” (Cohen, 1993). Herarticle opens up other things considering it goes as far as the 17thcentury Romans.

Evidencesfrom Keith Basso, and what he called “ethnography writing”(Cohen, 1993), in her colloquial speech, summed up habits thatreflected what Cohen in her article referred to as “social andcultural milieu”. Some of the things the article open up to areproblems of interactions in literary texts. Based on the author’spurpose for opening up other things, one of the biggest questionsasked would be whether the testimony fairly represented what thepeople actually said and did. Additionally, evidences from the lettershowed witnesses to be incomplete. The author made sure the readerwould likely to carve for more. And what of the things she excelledin, is opening up for the reader about the ambiguities that neverdisappoint altogether.

Sofar, it is evident that the author’s argument revolves aroundsocial meaning of culture as is illustrated by the love letter. Thelove letter is a form of representation between social practiceswould impact public reading and the role of modern culture as far asthe tone of the letter depicts. Of importance is the fact that theauthor constructs her interpretations convincingly to a point where aliterary critic would easily and readily identify certain elements ofrhetoric in the letter. Social of meaning of privacy is evidenced bythe way in which the owner of the letter sought to seek a reader. Shepreferred what Cohen termed as “convenience over trustworthiness”(Cohen, 1993). The letter is also evidence during the period, whichmarked a new phase in a more consummated and clandestine love affair.

Thearticle is also not over reliant on the speculations over motives andbehaviors. Findings are solely based on tangible evidences withrhetoric forming the last section of the article. The rhetoric,considering they are more of taking negative sides rather than thepositives, helps create a notion that the letter had phrases ofliteracy and orality in which the writer wrote of and to Margarita,the recipient of the love letter, were highly conventional. Also,Cohen’s language of love has highlighted by the letter, the use ofliterature came about as a result of several invocations (Cohen,1993). The article revealed Giovanantonio towards the end of theletter, which also took characterization as part of social cultureand its meaning came about partially as a result of literate culturein which they lived with Margarita.

Fromthe article’s analysis, the author uses her evidences well withvivid sources showing how purely conventional artifact were drawnfrom different perspectives. The letter in its content and form drewsome cultural habits of Rome of early modern Italy. The letter,according to Cohen, was a token of advanced literacy. The young man,Geovanatonio, represented pieces of writing that backed up theauthor’s agenda. Her agenda being to ensure private communicationwould also enjoy the kind of reading that the recipient of the lettercherished as a product of “oral and literate milieu” (Cohen,1993). Additionally, a well-written and illustrated documentpresented a certain destiny of significance, socially, to what wouldhave been anticipated by another author.

Thearticle however, despite having a good history, has a few obviousflaws and errors of omissions. Rhetoric in the article means it alsohas a few quirks and inconsistencies. The article depicts a certaintone, which lurches an epistolary whine of an adolescent, whichranges from the obvious salacious doggerel from a romantic pleading.From a postmodernist approach or study, the article may have toaccount for most of the vagaries in the article. As a historian, theauthor may have to go back to the drawing board whereby she will haveto assess the negative claims about intertextuality and what otherforms of oral and written literature are paralleled.

Additionally,inconsistencies in the article are also as a result of postmoderniststudies she used to draw her findings. She used some questions whichtook her towards the realm of where oral and literate culture isintersected. Of importance is errors based on a micro-historicalstudy of past events compared with modern social cultures. Thearticle draws its findings from complexities of life as is evidencedby the letter.

Inconclusion, the article represents a good history wherebyreconstruction of a larger cultural contexts and social settingrecords historical analysis of these kinds of trial documents. Ofinterest are boundaries separating the public and the private, whichcould not be the same, especially in world where the authorconsidered possible for everyone to “read and write”. Goingthrough the article also highlights a history where the unletteredand advancement in written culture however, is not an autonomicguarantee or occasioned for introspection. Those, fortunately, were“luxuries as yet beyond their means.”


Cohen,S. E. (1993). BetweenOral and Written Culture: The Social Meaning of an Illustrated LoveLetter.Essays in Honor of Natalie Zemin Davis. Eds. B. Diefendorf and C.Hesse (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1993). ISBN: 047-210-4705