In recent years, people across the world have had to endure long periods of loneliness and isolation.
However, a new project will explore how the separation faced by billions during the global pandemic was matched in communities across Europe and the Atlantic World, and East Asia around five centuries ago.
The six-year project, funded by an 18,000,000 Swedish Krona (£1.5 million) grant from the Swedish Research Council, brings together experts from the UK, Sweden and Australia, and an international advisory board of researchers from across Europe, North America and Asia.
They will examine repositories of letters, diaries, poetry and material culture housed in Japan, South Korea, China, France, Germany, the UK, Italy and Scandinavia to explore the historical experiences of separation across the continents.
The project focuses specifically on the 16th and 17th centuries, a period of immense change with technological advances ranging from the print revolution and formalised postal systems to improved ship design and better transportation routes.
All of this contributed to establishing the letter as a tool for mediating perceived distance, with the researchers suggesting that societal and technical changes during this period gave rise to different forms of communicating experiences in the same way that our experiences of COVID-19 ushered in a new culture of digital remote communication.
The project developed from an intergenerational oral history project aimed at combatting loneliness and isolation during lockdown which was initially broadcast on the Histories of the Unexpected podcast.