Masterclass: Migrant ego-documents in Late Modern English

Learn more about the masterclass’ topic and programme, register for free and find our contact details.

Bildet kan inneholde: svart og hvit, dress, monokrom fotografering, stol, vintage-klær.

Immigrants arriving on Ellis Island. (Source: Library of Congress, Bain News Service photograph collection, accessed: January 26, 2021).

Migrant ego-documents in focus

In recent years, interest in English-speaking migrants’ correspondence has gained traction among historical linguists. Most often, emigration from predominantly English-speaking countries during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was motivated by migrants’ need to better their worldly circumstances and the wish to improve their children’s future prospects. Migrants’ lives prior to their emigration had typically not been characterized by extensive schooling, and their writings – letters or journals chronicling their voyage and life in a new country and sent back to the homeland – therefore attest less to perceived norms and standard spellings. This is exactly the reason why migrants’ written texts are highly relevant for scholars who wish to contribute to a language history ‘from below’.

In his publication Keeping in touch. Emigrant letters across the English-speaking world (2019), Hickey rightly points out that “the search for emigrant letters [is] like panning for gold: one trawls through large quantities of linguistically irrelevant data in the hope that one might – unexpectedly – come across the odd nugget which makes the work worthwhile” (Hickey, 2019, p.11). It is exactly this idea that there is valuable information hidden in migrant correspondence, like nuggets of gold in a river bed, that will be explored in this masterclass. Following Hickey’s metaphor further, linguists need to embark on a time-consuming process, trawling through huge chunks of data, before hitting the occasional vein of gold. Therefore, four scholars active in the field will explore both opportunities and challenges in working with such varied material from the Late Modern English period.


This masterclass is aimed at early-career researchers, in particular PhD students in English linguistics, but anyone with a keen interest in research on migrant ego-documents or Late Modern English is highly welcome to join.

Attending the masterclass is free and open to the public.

The masterclass is hosted at the Department of Literature, Area Studies and European Languages, University of Oslo, by Doctoral Research Fellow Nora Dörnbrack and Associate Professor Jacob Thaisen. The event is funded by the Anders Jahre Fund.



The masterclass will take place on Monday, May 10, 2021.

More detailed information on the programme will be announced soon. In the meantime, we are proud to announce that four authorities in the field have agreed to share their expertise with us:

Prof. Anita Auer, University of Lausanne

Prof. Marina Dossena, University of Bergamo

Prof. Raymond Hickey, University of Duisburg-Essen

Prof. Robert McColl Millar, University of Aberdeen



In order to register, please follow the link below and fill out the form:

Register here



If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact us!


Nora Dörnbrack:

Jacob Thaisen:


Emneord: English language, English linguistics, Historical linguistics, Heritage languages and linguistics, Migration
Publisert 4. feb. 2021 16:12 - Sist endret 4. feb. 2021 16:52