Anne Frank wrote her poignant diary, The Diary of a Young Girl, while in hiding during the Nazi German occupation of Amsterdam in the 1940s. In her diary, she records the challenges, fears, and daily life of living in hiding. Her father, Otto Frank, edited his daughter’s diary and arranged for its publication after World War 2.
On the other hand, Bridget Jones, the fictional thirtysomething, wrote her 2001 diary while living in London. In her diary, Bridget records her everyday struggles with a focus on her dating both the despicable Daniel Cleaver and the worthy (but uptight) barrister, Mark Darcy. Even as a lighthearted film, the diary itself does a good job of reflecting the social pressures that single Western women face.
What’s It All About?
In the first place: what is a diary? According to reliable sources, a diary is a record (originally in handwritten format) with separate entries arranged by date. Diaries report on what has happened over the course of a day. Diaries come in all sizes: one of the longest is 40-volumes long! And, yes, the word “journal” is often used for diary, but generally a diary has daily entries whereas journal writing can be less frequent.
Diaries play a role in documenting many aspects of human civilization, including government and military records , business ledgers, and travel diaries. Today’s diaries come in many different forms, including sleep and diet diaries that are used to track sleep patterns and calorie consumption. By extension, the term diary includes electronic formats such as blogs.
The content of diaries can provide information for other forms of writing, including memoirs and autobiographies or biographies.Once written solely for private consumption, today many diaries are written with publication (and even profit) in mind.
Dear “Kitty”–Then and Now
Anne Frank’s diary entries to “Dear Kitty” were hardly the first diary entries. In fact, the oldest diaries (that are still existing) date back to the 10th century from the Middle Eastern and East Asian cultures in the form of travel diaries. Often these diaries recorded business transactions.
Beginning with the Renaissance, some people began to put down their own opinions, hopes and fears. The diaries of Samuel Pepys stand out as examples of this trend. His diaries consist of eyewitness accounts of several historic events, including the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London.
Jumping over centuries, another trend worth note is the practice of posthumous publication of diaries. This trend began in the 19th century and has become commonplace – notably among politicians seeking justification.
Today: Other Options for Keeping a Diary
In the late 20th century, as the Internet became commonly available, many people adopted it as another medium in which to chronicle their lives. The first online diary is thought to be Claudio Pinhanez’s “Open Diary,” published at the MIT Media Lab website. Web-based services such as Open Diary and Live Journal appeared soon after.
Widespread growth in personal storytelling came with the emergence of blogs. The emergence and growth of blogs in the late 1990s coincides with the advance of web publishing tools that made it easy for non-technical users to post their entries. It’s estimated today that two of the popular blogging services (WordPress and Tumblr) host about 250 million blogs! Lots of opportunity for people who like to write and read!
There are also options for people who prefer to talk and listen. Saving Memories Forever recently developed an audio diary that allows people to talk about their daily thoughts. This is done by simply using the Saving Memories Forever smartphone app and uploading the daily recording. It’s easy to use: just click on the new Audio Diary category on the Saving Memories Forever app and then press Recordings for the Day. After you’ve recorded a few entries, you might be inspired to record a slightly bigger story from another time in your life.
Online Diaries Offer Great Insight
The Internet has also made it possible for many users to access diaries online. These sources can be useful in researching family history.
Kimberly Powell, a professional genealogist, and frequent contributor to About.com, cites a number of online historical diaries and journals by writers from all walks of life. While the diaries are tremendous finds for direct descendants, they are also helpful to non-relatives because the personal narratives give a good understanding of the time in which a person lived. Some of the diaries she recommends are described below. Click here to read her entire list.
Ella’s 1874 Pocket Diary
An 1874 pocket diary from an antique store in Fort Ann, New York, didn’t include the name of the author, but is rich with other names and stories from her life as a schoolteacher in Vermont. You can also learn more about the author, Ella Burnham, and her family in this genealogical exploration.
First-Person Narratives of the American South
Focused primarily on the words and voices of women, African Americans, laborers, and Native Americans, this site from the University of North Carolina offers a variety of narrative documents, including personal accounts, letters, travelogues, and diaries, relating to the culture of the American South in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Prairie Settlement: Nebraska Photographs and Family Letters
Approximately 3,000 pages of family letters, from collections of the Nebraska State Historical Society, describe the trials of establishing a homestead in Nebraska and everyday life on the Great Plains as they follow the Uriah Oblinger family’s sojourns in Indiana, Nebraska, Minnesota, Kansas, and Missouri. Part of the Library of Congress American Memory Project.