Beinecke Early Modern is pleased to announce the award of this year’s Beinecke Early Modern European Senior Essay Prize to Elisabeth Mallin, a Yale history major, for her “Sisterhood in Early Eighteenth-Century Scotland: The Bruce Women’s Virtual Household.” Established in 2007-08, the Beinecke Library Prize for Early Modern European Studies is awarded annually to the Yale senior essayist whose research makes best use of the Library’s early modern British and European collections, 1500-1800.
Drawing on the Lady Betty Bruce archive in the Beinecke’s Boswell Family Papers, Mallin examined the correspondence between Lady Betty Bruce, wife of James Boswell (1672-1749), Laird of Auchinleck, and her sisters and niece over a near twenty year span from 1698-1717. In making close and extensive use of this correspondence archive, Mallin offers a new contribution to the study of Scottish correspondence, household, and kinship networks in the period, while exploring the idea of correspondence networks as a form of “virtual household.”
As Mallin argues, “the virtual household, as exemplified by the Bruce women, is a mode of communication that serves to negate the disadvantages of distance, and to increase the interdependence and resources of a group of people–in this case, a group of women who have no patriarchal head to tie them to each other, and who might otherwise have been absorbed entirely into their husbands’ families and away from each other. … The letters that they wrote went beyond simple accounts of day-to-day life…; they served to reinforce the interdependence of the sisters’ families in a way that enhanced their social, economic, physical and emotional security.”
The Lady Betty Bruce letterbooks are held in the Beinecke’s Boswell Family Papers, call number: Gen MSS 89, Box 104. Portions of the archive (primarily those relating to James Boswell) have been scanned and can be found in the Beinecke’s Digital Images Online.