The Eclectic World of the Diary


                               THE ECLECTIC WORLD OF THE DIARY   

I think it should be obvious that there are as many different types of diaries as there are people who write them.  They are, above all, artistic expressions of the self.  If not in the type of diary, at least in the style, they are as unique as the individual who put pen to paper.  Reading diaries and journals you will come as close as possible to reading someone else’s mind or to walking a mile in their shoes.

Certainly what is important to me is not the same for you and what is important to me today may not be so a few years from now.  From a confused college student in the turbulent sixties to confusion and upheaval in my sixties, the chapters of my life include everything from living in a utopian community and cult to milking cows, from teaching to single parenthood, from homesteading to bookselling, from disastrous marriages to love.

 A journal is a continuous novel with only one main character guaranteed from beginning to end.   The theme may remain the same but the other characters shift and the plot and setting may flip like frenetic channel surfing in the soap opera of life.   

Unlike a novel, a diary is written in your “true voice,” which is like the clothes you wear around the house when you are sure no one is going to see you.   A journal can be written with an honesty that is too raw, possibly too politically incorrect, and too self-exposing to be disguised as a writer’s work of fiction.   I have often found the truth to be unbelievable.   At times I have written what could not be printed in the paper.

Consider what a National Diary Archive would contain:  history, social culture, adventure and travel description, religious experiences, hobbies, recipes, nature stories, weather phenomenon, garden notes, teen-age angst, motherhood, parenthood (parental angst), relationships, sex, dreams, art sketches, photos and so on.  The perspective could be emotional, psychological, sociological, spiritual, or historical.   

I cannot imagine a more fascinating library.  Even if I don’t want to read what Julia Child ate in every restaurant in France, maybe someone else would.   

Wouldn’t you think it would be more important for the Library of Congress to want to preserve this than everything  ever said on Twitter?


7 Responses to “The Eclectic World of the Diary”

  1. Heidi MacDonald Says:

    I’m very excited by your idea. I’m not sure why I thought there already was an archive. I search for it on the web every so often, and I think this is the first real hit I’ve gotten.

    I’ve been writing since I was 13, but my earliest writing was confiscated by my mother, but I still have 16-49, so far so good. I would like my diaries/journals to go to an archive because I think anyone I know would misunderstand them. I’ve never counted them, but they take up a full drawer in a large file cabinet.

    Thank you for your work here. I’ll be reading along.


  2. cynthiamanuel Says:

    Great to hear from another journal writer. Spread the word.

    Neither have I found anything on the internet about an archive for diaries of the common person. Obviously I believe in this cause. If I never get to achieve this dream I hope someone else does. I intend to leave money from my final estate to create this archive.

    An archive should be set up to store diaries unread until a date pre-determined by the author.

    By the way, consider putting your journals into plastic boxes. From what I have learned as a used book dealer for 27 years, moisture/water is the biggest threat…more likely than fire, though it may not help against a real flood. Best not to store them in basement or attic either.


    • Heidi MacDonald Says:

      I agree, I hope there will be an archive some day. You’re very generous to make a financial commitment. There would be a treasure trove of primary sources for historians and other researchers, plus some great writing, I’m sure!

      I do need to put my journals in plastic boxes, but I live in Tucson, Arizona where few people have basements or attics and it’s dry as a bone most of the year. It would be the smart way to go before something happens; this is our rainy season.

      Are you contacting universities about housing the archive at one of them? I need to read more of your blog before I ask more questions.


  3. Gaby Says:

    I am planning to write a thesis for university, using original diaries. Therefore I too am looking for an archive which is not in Germany. Unfortunately I haven’t found one yet.
    There is one in southern Germany (, where normal people send diaries of their parents, grandparents, or other people, diaries they bought on a flea market etc, or their own diaries or biographies) which are too valuable to throw away and so that they will be kept somewhere (who wants to throw away a diary??) Some of them go back hundreds of years ….


    • cynthiamanuel Says:

      So far I have not found a diary archive in the United States for the collection and preservation of the writings of the “common person.” Dr. Irving Finkel of the British Museum has a collection of 1,000 diaries and has hoped to start a diary archive on that side of the ocean. I will look up the archive in southern Germany…but I don’t speak German so that may be a problem. The idea of creating an archive is a passionate dream of mine. I’d guess that the main reason it has not happened yet in the U.S. is lack of funding (which would take care of the next two problems – lack of a location and lack of a curator). I’m told I should begin fund-raising now, but frankly lack the time. The absence of response is not very encouraging. I would love to start this…and become a curator.

      How will you use diaries in your thesis?


  4. Arthur Dirks Says:

    It pleases me greatly to find somebody who has “gone public” with an idea I’ve had for many years. I have long dreamed of a national archive of personal journals and diaries – regardless of the huge storage and indexing problems – as a true record of personal lives. Sadly, genealogists are finding access to paper records even more difficult as personnel are cut. I have my own small bin of journals, mostly from travels over the years because so much stimulus and waiting time come together in travel. I’ve also kept a more pedestrian diary for a couple of decades that I read with some regularity as memories fade. But as the designated family historian (I have the biggest house) I also inherited a crate I didn’t know existed – my parents kept separate diaries since the 1940s. Someday I hope to have the courage to start reading them, in order to share the family history therein. But in this digital age, we may be reaching the end of handwriting and an enduring hardcopy legacy of common life. We need to find a way to preserve it well.


  5. cynthiamanuel Says:

    Thank you for your comments and shared interest in an archive.

    I am still dreaming of that national diary archive. I would like it to be born this next year. Not being wealthy, lacking fund-raising know-how, not to mention having limited computer skills and still being rather confused about setting up a non-profit organization are just a few of the obstacles I need to overcome. My personal life has not been a smooth sea either yet I haven’t given up hope that we will have that archive someday.

    What a wonderful discovery of your parents’ diaries. I encourage you to read them. As you will see in my recent post, I have just inherited my great-great grandmother’s and my mother’s diaries. I am reading of her first dates with my father. I am learning things I never knew about her. I am an avid gardener…why did I never know she gardened?

    Like you, I believe we may be seeing the final years of handwriting. I wonder about that. Will anyone be able to read it or will it be like a foreign language? Will it become an archaic art form? I have always been known for beautiful handwriting. I take pleasure in the physical act of writing in my journals, however, just this year I have been writing more on the computer and then printing the pages for a notebook journal. I do love the ease of editing


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