Signed, Sealed, and Undelivered; and Letterlocking Workshop

Announcing two upcoming events at MIT Libraries that will be of interest to scholars working on early modern France and epistolary culture in general. More information about the project and these events may be found at and

(1) Signed, Sealed & Undelivered: A 17th-Century Postal Treasure Trove Rediscovered. (13 April, MIT, 9:30 am–12pm)
Join our international and interdisciplinary team on the Signed Sealed, & Undelivered Project, as we present our work in a morning session filled with short presentations related to the 17th-century postal chest filled with an extraordinary archive: 2600 “locked” letters, none of which were ever delivered. A series of short presentations will give an overview of the project and explore the world of the early modern postmasters who collected the letters, historic document security techniques, and the applications of this work across the humanities. Each attendee will receive locked letter models to take away. The event is presented in conjunction with Preservation Week at the MIT Libraries, held April 24–30, 2016, to highlight the importance of preserving cultural heritage materials.

Register for free at

Rebekah Ahrendt, Assistant Professor of Music, Yale University
Nadine Akkerman, Lecturer in English, Leiden University
Jana Dambrogio, Thomas F. Peterson (1957) Conservator, MIT Libraries
David van der Linden, NWO Veni Fellow and Lecturer in History, University of Groningen
David Mills, physicist, Queen Mary, University of London
Daniel Starza Smith, British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellow, Lincoln College, University of Oxford

Event Details:
Samberg Conference Center
Dining Room 5, 6th floor
Chang Building (E52), MIT

(2) Letterlocking Workshop: Signed, Sealed & Undelivered (14 April, MIT, 10am–12pm)
Come spend a couple hours with the Signed, Sealed & Undelivered Project team learning how to fold and secure correspondence using the same techniques found on some of the letters in a recently rediscovered 17th-century postal chest.

The workshop focuses on historical practices of letterlocking, asking how men and women folded and sealed their letters before (and after) the invention of the envelope. The session uses a hands-on approach to help participants make models of several key historical locking formats. Participants will use paper, wax, scissors, and seals (all materials provided) to reconstruct the different letterlocking techniques. They will open a version of each letter and then make their own version of each format, creating a set to take away, after discussing the relative security, innovation, and elegance of each model. We consider what kinds of evidence archival letters hold that remain hidden until a model is made, and we show participants how to make simulacra (a specific type of model fabricated in the presence of an original) of letters under their care, mimicking historical repairs on those models. The workshop also aims to demonstrate the benefits of collaboration between conservators and scholars in other disciplines such as literature and history and will show how this conservation-based practice is leading to new theoretical advances in the humanities.

Register for free at

The event will take place at the Digital Instruction Resource Center (DIRC), MIT, building 14N-132.

About the project
In 1926, a trunk of letters was bequeathed to the Museum voor Communicatie in The Hague, the center of government, politics, and trade in the Netherlands. The trunk belonged to two of the most active postmasters of the turn of the eighteenth century, Simon de Brienne and Maria Germain, a couple at the heart of European communication networks. The undelivered letters in the trunk were sent from all over Europe to recipients who would have also paid postal and delivery charges. Postmasters usually destroyed undeliverable “dead letters,” but the Briennes preserved them, hoping that someone would retrieve the letters – and pay the postage. The trunk thus freezes a moment in history, allowing us to glimpse the early modern world as it went about its daily business. The letters are uncensored, unedited, and 600 of them even remain unopened. Learn more at

Dr David van der Linden | Lecturer & NWO Veni Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Groningen | | | Twitter: @dcvanderlinden