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The Picture Postcard

A new window into Edwardian Ireland


Ann Wilson

The Picture Postcard, a new window into Edwardian Ireland uses the material culture of the picture postcard as a lens through which to examine life on the island of Ireland during the Edwardian period (1902-10). Picture postcards became extremely popular worldwide at the start of the twentieth century, when literally hundreds of billions of them were produced and sold.

This book draws on postcard collections to access the everyday lives of people who rarely make it into conventional historical narratives, and to make connections in an Irish context between their «small histories» and broader, well-studied discourses such as identity, nationalism, empire, modernity, emigration, tourism and the roles of women.


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During the Edwardian period, picture postcards were enormously popular and pervasive in Ireland as they were elsewhere, and as a visual medium they constituted a significant if sometimes overlooked influence on people. The reasons for their success are many: their cheapness, their portability, their visual appeal and variety, their potential for manipulation so that messages could be customized for individual or mass communication, their mass production in a standardized format and of course the fast and efficient national and international postal systems to which they were perfectly adapted, and via which they facilitated and sped up millions of transactions between people in their private and working lives. All these factors worked just as well in the Irish context as they did elsewhere, and in Ireland the format was either adapted to specifically Irish needs, or probably more commonly, imported cards were cheerfully and unproblematically consumed and enjoyed in exactly the same ways as they were all over the world, just as imported media products are in Ireland today.

Picture postcards changed how people interacted with each other in their personal, business and political lives, and they were also the route by which vast amounts of popular imagery from all over the world entered and circulated around Ireland. They were so cheap and accessible that they were practically unavoidable, and for every voice raised in criticism of them many more people used and consumed them with great enthusiasm. They were much more a part of daily life than is...

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