Are Old Diaries Worth Saving?

There are many reasons why all diaries are worth saving…not just the diaries of the famous. 

Have you ever wondered what someone else was really thinking or feeling?  Have you ever thought how intriguing it would be to know what was going on in someone else’s life, to tear away the masks we wear?  What is it like to be someone the same as you, or someone completely different – of the opposite sex, a different race or a different period of history?   What might it be like to be a mother, a single-parent, a handicapped person, a soldier, to have cancer, to be raped, or to be so angry you would take a gun to school?    

There are many voyeuristic fascinations in reading a person’s diary.   We want to peek, we want to know what it was really like. Dr. Irving Finkel, who has collected 1,000 diaries to begin a British diary archive, says we all have something of a “beastly sneak” inside us.    We want to see the naked truth that most of us suspect is not available in newspapers or public media, or in history books, or even in buffed up autobiographies.  

Old diaries are an alluring glimpse into the past.   What  were the triumphs and tragedies and even the mundane details and concerns of everyday life?  What did people do before television, computers, and cell phones?  We might not think our diaries are very interesting, but given one hundred years even the commonplace acquires a mystique.  

For a point of view that is unavailable in a standard history text, I love reading excerpts from diaries written about a historic event.  After all, history is usually written by the winners who distort things to illuminate their own brilliance.   A diary, however, is uncensored.   

Whether we should preserve diaries may become a personal decision when you are the diarist.   If you are like me, you never intended to write so much.  I began my diary when I was 16.  I just kept on writing and suddenly it was 46 years later.  At my age it is time to answer questions about what should happen to all of my stuff when I die.  Because I write with complete honesty, and often use the diary as a catharsis, I would not want the members of my family or my friends to read it when I die.   At the same time, since I have put so many hours of work into these journals, I would hate to throw them away just as much as I would be devastated today if they were destroyed in fire or flood.  

Offering them to an archive is a way to preserve my life’s work.  I would be giving them to future generations, for whatever purpose emerges, in all of their ragged uselessness or hopeful value.  I think it’s a bit  like donating your body to science, only in this case it’s like donating your soul.  

One never knows if it will end up on the anatomy table or in the woods of a forensic body farm.  That’s a chance I’m willing to take.    

To my future unknown readers: “Salut!”

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2 Responses to “Are Old Diaries Worth Saving?”

  1. Sarah Says:

    I love this idea. I have diaries from different times in my life and when I re-read over them “yeah this IS the thoughts of a 20 something year old woman” or “oh my gosh I was an idiot to put this on paper!” But I mostly believe it is historical and unique.

  2. Jean Says:

    I have random diaries kept by my deceased mother. I have my Diaries which I have kept on and off for the last 58 years. My 35 year old daughter keeps diaries. We are typing up all 3 generations alongside each other, date wise in spreadsheets. Hopefully my 6 year old granddaughter will soon start to keep diaries and add to an ongoing historical family document.

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