Ordinary Yet Emblematic: The Transnational Correspondence Between an American GI and His Sweetheart during the Korean War


  • Elizabeth Bruns



letters, microhistory, transnational, marriage


Operating on the core premise of microhistory, that the lives of ordinary people are endowed with explanatory power for a specific period or event in history, this article analyses the war-time letters from the 1950s written by an American serviceman and his girlfriend, later wife, during the Korean War. The author addresses methodological concerns regarding implications that the unique characteristics of personal letters have on the utilization of them as primary source material in historical and biographical writing, in addition to reflections on the author’s close familial relationship to the historical subjects and how this impacts the overall objectivity of the article. An analysis of the letters demonstrates how the couple developed various techniques to mitigate the effects of distance and how they coped with the pervasive sense of uncertainty and fear that consumed Cold War America. This study broadly contributes to the existing life writing literature by demonstrating how a life writing approach, when applied to a particular moment in history, can be utilized in historical study to tell a previously untold part of that particular moment.

Author Biography

Elizabeth Bruns

Elizabeth Bruns is a PhD Fellow with the Department of History at Aarhus University. Her research interests lie broadly in the varying ways and reasons that everyday people in the past have moved and communicated across borders. Her current PhD work investigates education exchanges between the United States and Denmark in the Cold War, in an effort to understand the ways that different types of exchange programs were mobilized to further varying political objectives. She received her BA in History and Political Science from Colorado State University, and her MA in International and Global History from Aarhus University. You can reach her at